When I think of Albert Camus’s famous quip that the first question of philosophy is whether or not to commit suicide, I also think of the late-1960s version of Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston. Three astronauts find themselves in a state of Fichte-like “flungness.” They literally drop out of the sky into an unfamiliar world, and they have to figure out where, exactly, they are, and who—or what, if anything—is in charge of the planet. If you recall, they begin walking into the desert from their wrecked spaceship and they have no means of escape. How does one reasonably make meaning of one’s surroundings from so bleak and silent a starting place? And this question inevitably becomes: Is the effort worth the candle? When Camus says that the first important question of philosophy is suicide, I think that these astronauts are stark symbolic embodiments of what is, in fact, the actual existential situation of all human beings. In the film, all three astronauts make the choice to try to live—but they didn’t have to. They might have stopped at any point and simply waited for death, or they might have committed suicide. But they chose to see if they could make a worthwhile existence in strange surroundings.
As do we all.