Red Dwarf and the Meaning of Life

English sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf is one of the finest examples of existential comedy I think I’ve ever seen. It deals so elegantly in matters of free will and determinism, time travel, the idea and pursuit of happiness, and any number of philosophical and mythological conundra. But what shines through mostly is the quest for meaning in life.

Marooned 3 million years away from Earth following a nuclear explosion is an on-board crew of Lister, the last man alive who was safely sealed in Stasis as punishment for keeping a cat on the ship; Rimmer, a hologramatic projection of his former bunkmate; the Cat, a lifeform evolved from Lister’s pet cat Frankenstein; and Kryten, a service mechanoid rescued from the Nova 5. Steering them and ostensibly aiding them on their journey is the on-board computer, Holly, who after 3 million years on his own has lost a little of his former 6,000 IQ points and is now to all intents and purposes computer senile. Between them they do all the usual sci-fi things, getting into scrapes and dealing with cosmic phenomena, on their way to finding a way home, but underpinning the whole thing are some beautiful forays into the meaning of existence – and in many ways the lack of it. It’s universe is one which is unequivocally without a god or benign being, and without even alien life forms: any creature that they encounter is something developed and/or mutated from Earth, millenia ago sent out into deep space. Read the rest of this entry »

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