The Barbarian Invasions -
A Must-See Film on What Really Matters

by Brian Vaszily, founder of

Who are we? What do we really know? What really matters?

My "intense experiences" training programs are known for being extremely profound and transformative, and most people agree that the experiences I typically present at the end -- those focused on embracing death -- are the most profound of the profound.

That is of course by design, as nothing enables you to understand who you really are, what matters most to you, and where you should truly be focused in your life like the one and only inevitable: death.

And I just watched a film called The Barbarian Invasions that portrays that theme beautifully.

What Separates Us?

The Barbarian Invasions won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Picture – the first Canadian film ever to do so (note that it IS in French with English subtitles). It deserves that award and all the others bestowed upon it, because as great films do, it takes you on a captivating journey – yes, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry -- and it leaves you with important questions in relation to your own life.

Anyone who has pondered their own mortality can relate. Anyone who hasn’t yet pondered their mortality can relate. Anyone who has had a parent or dear friend die can most certainly relate.

The film centers on Remy, an old history professor who is dying of cancer, and his estranged and financially successful son, Sebastien. The father and son have held very different principles in life: in short, Remy is an anti-capitalist with quite the sexual history of jumping from woman to woman in his life. His son is quite the capitalist, with a steady fiancé.

These and other “differences” have kept the two in bitter silence with one another for years. But Remy’s dying eventually brings them together, and Sebastian – through very capitalist means – also brings together a group of Remy’s old friends … and a colorful, cantankerous bunch they are.

The theme of estrangement due to different viewpoints and lifestyles is repeated in several other relationships and situations in the film, such as a promiscuous mother and her heroin-addicted daughter and the non-Christian Remy and his Christian nurse.

What Matters Most

But without giving away the details – and with The Barbarian Invasions it is all in the details, from the dialogue to the emotion on the characters’ faces – here is what the characters discover, and what viewers who give this film the attention it deserves may discover too:

Our differences and misunderstandings with one another are not where our primary attention should reside. It is what we all share with one another – from feeling love to lust, from feeling fear to joy, and facing the big questions we all face – that does deserve our primary attention.

Yes, ideas and ideals are important, but they’re not so important as to fly planes into The World Trade Center and kill thousands for them, or to slaughter millions of Native Americans for them, or to avoid speaking to loved ones for years for them.

If you focus on what separates you from others, you will feel separated. And ultimately – because you will never find anyone who shares exactly the same beliefs you do – you will ultimately feel very alone.

If you focus on what unites you with others – and there is always something, many things -- you will feel together. And you will feel love.