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The Meaning (or Lack Thereof) Of Life With "Rick and Morty"

Analyzing what this Adult Swim Cartoon says about or role in the universe.

By Joachim HeijndermansPublished 7 years ago 6 min read
It's a safe assumption nearly everyone has at one point asked these simple yet unanswerable questions: “why are we here?” and “is there a purpose to our lives?” We might never get the answers to these questions. But one alcohol abusing super scientist and his hormonal teenage grandson not only shrug at those questions, they point and laugh at those who ask them, choosing to instead revel in the chaos and anarchy that is life. This is the tale of Rick and Morty.

Created by Justin Roiland (the voice of Earl of Lemongrab on Adventure Time) and Dan Harmon (of Community fame), Rick and Morty is an Adult Swim cartoon about super-genius scientist Rick Sanchez, his teenage grandson Morty Smith, and the many misadventures the two share as they travel through the cosmos and alternate dimensions, trying to stay alive and relatively sane all in the name of science. What science is this? Who knows. Only Rick seems to truly benefit from these insane antics, whereas Morty usually suffers the brunt of the peril at both the hands of the many malevolent creatures they encounter and his own drunken grandfather's insane antics.

Rick and Morty and the many creatures they encounter (Beth, Summer and Jerry pictured left)

The series covers a slew of science-fiction topics, ranging from alternate universes, David Cronenberg-style body horror, socio-political commentary, late-night informercial parodies and intergalactic talent shows hosted by a race of giant floating heads. There's something for every fan of science-fiction, horror and gross-out humor to see.

Rick and Morty has been an immense hit with audiences, being a source to a surplus of quotable lines (“I don't like your unemployed genes in my grandchildren, Jerry, but life is made of little concessions”), memorable characters (“I'm Mr. Meeseeks, look at me!”) and insane adventures. But hidden under its layer of crude, mean-spirited and sometimes grotesque humor, Rick and Morty brings up some deeply philosophical points, all tied together with a theme of what the meaning to our lives may be, and what do we do when realize there might be none?

L to R: Beth, Summer, Jerry, Mr. Meeseeks (Look at Me!) Rick and Morty

This topic is brought up fairly early in the series, starting with the introduction of Mr. Meeseeks, a blue shrill-voiced creature that can be summoned to perform any task that it is given, only to evaporate upon completion of said task. The Meeseeks are fine with their very limited existence, and cannot cope if their task proves too difficult to complete, trapped in a hellish existence without meaning. A Meeseeks life is based on a single clear purpose, and being unable to complete that purpose is akin to having none at all, leading to insanity and dangerous (although hilarious) fits of murderous rage. But a Meeseeks is meant by design to have a clear and simple goal in its life, being blessed with actual meaning in its short lifespan. But what about the rest of us? We aren't born with set goals. How do we cope, if we cope at all?

The zany universe of Rick and Morty

The main conflict of Rick and Morty centers around our endless quest to find meaning to our lives, when it is sometimes clear that there might not be any. This is exemplified in Morty's father, Jerry Smith. Jerry's role in the show is that of the everyman, who sees his work as validation of his existence, fears the unknown, and is petrified of the thought that he might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This is shown a number of times by how he is offended when Rick calls schooling meaningless and feels personally attacked and intellectually challenged when he is told that Pluto is no longer considered a planet when helping Morty with a school assignment. When he once accidentally joins Rick and Morty on one of their outings, it is made abundantly clear that neither his sanity nor his life would last long in a place where those very things have little worth.

Jerry struggles with the idea that he has no real control over his life, and that he cannot comprehend the idea that any and all of his actions might amount to meaning little. To Jerry, the only meaning to life is to do exactly what society expects of him, stay out of trouble, and not to ask the harsh and difficult questions, since he knows he won't like the answers.

Season 1 Promo

Rick on the other hand, acknowledges he has no control over his existence, and his exposure to the horrors of the universe and the confirmed existence of an infinite number of alternate versions of himself means that anything he does has no meaning. Should he die, other Ricks will live on, yet the world keeps turning. The difference is that Rick doesn't care, or just keeps himself inebriated long enough to get through the day without having to come to term with these thoughts. An oft repeated line by Rick is “don't think about it”, which might sound as willful ignorance, but in a universe of violent aliens, pedophiliac jellybeans and telepathic parasites that create false memories, the only way to stay sane is really not to think too hard about it when faced with impossible situations in the face of death (Rick from “Rick Potion No. 9”: “What about the reality where Hitler cured cancer, Morty? The answer is: don't think about it”.)

Despite seemingly reveling in the chaos, Rick is show to be a deeply troubled man, attempting suicide on a few occasions and making numerous cries for help (his catchphrase “Wubba lubba dub dub” literally translates to “I am in great pain, please help”). While Rick and Jerry may be fundamentally different, neither seems to be able handle the absurd and chaotic nature of the universe, with Jerry getting by though denial and Rick's prolonged exposure leaving him a depressed, substance addicted, suicidal mess.

A rare happy moment on Hamsters-in-butt-world (don't ask)

Thrust in between these two opposites is poor Morty, who is not nearly as intelligent as his grandfather and shows signs that all these zany (read: nightmare inducing) adventures are putting a heavy toll on his sanity. He rolls with the punches and complains as little as he can, and in doing so creates a perfect middle ground. Morty seeks no validation to his existence, especially after being forced to bury the corpse of his own alternate self. But he still believes in basic decency, wanting to help those in need and trying to keep his family from being exposed to the same horrors he has (especially when it comes to his sister Summer). While his grandfather plunges himself headfirst into certain doom and his father hides from reality through stark denial, Morty embraces the fact that he has no control over his life, so he should make the most of what little time he has on this Earth, even if that makes his life mundane. (Quote from “Rixty Minutes”: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV.”)

While the series's general outlook is seemingly bleak (if not downright nihilistic) there are a few brights spots amidst the sea of eldritch horrors and dog revolutions (yes, really). Rick is shown to deeply care for his family. While claiming he only acts out of self interest, Rick has stood up for Morty and his sister Summer on multiple occasions, is protective of his daughter (although she suffers from extreme abandonment issues due to him leaving her and her mother twenty years prior) and even created an emergency day-care for his son-in-law, knowing that Jerry could never survive the insanity of his adventures. Perhaps, like his grandson, Rick feels the only value if his life comes from his family. If that is true, he does have a terrible way of showing it. But a life of facing enemies and unspeakable horrors have caused him to bottle these positive emotions up, showing his love only during private moments or through extreme acts of violence against those who try to harm them.

Perhaps the true meaning behind Rick and Morty is that, even if our lives are insignificant and fleeting in the great theater that is our existence, perhaps the only true meaning there is to it is what we make of our lives, and not the role society implements on us. We should find out own meaning, and sometimes that just means sitting down and watching TV with your loved ones.

Rick and Morty is currently in its 3rd season on Adult Swim, the first episode released on April 1st of 2017.

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About the Creator

Joachim Heijndermans

Joachim is a freelance artist and writer. He writes short stories and draws comics. Likes to travel, paint, collect rare toys, and read in his spare time. His fiction writing has been featured in magazines, websites, podcasts and television

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