Warning: spoilers ahead.
I have already discussed how I feel overall about Love, Death, and Robots, and shared my top five episodes from the Netflix animated anthology series in a separate spoiler-free article.
My personal favorite—by a wide margin, in fact—has to be Episode 14: Zima Blue. Its vibrant use of color, its Samurai Jack-esque style of art, and perfectly-paced storytelling grabbed my attention and never let it go for its entire 8-minute running time. More than that, however, what made this one stick with me among the 18 episodes of the entire first season was just how much it was able to impart in a short span of time, and how thought-provoking these messages were.
Zima Blue is first introduced from the somewhat distant perspective of a reporter who has never met him, but has known of him and his work due to his popularity. He is known to be an artist who always takes his artwork a notch higher than the rest in terms of scale—as he mounts large installations the size of skyscapers and paintins full celestial bodies—and in terms of sheer amount of dedication—being said to have had himself infused with robotic parts to be able to transcend human limitations. Zima always goes beyond what is expected, and that’s what made him popular.
Stop chasing false horizons.
The twist of the episode comes in Zima’s reveal of his origins as a machine built by a young woman to clean a pool, and his decision to return to that state from his current form—one that is more human-like, with more awareness. In his choice of his final art installation being that of him cleaning a pool, Zima shows a decision to go backwards in his search for fulfillment in the things he does. It’s a realization that fulfillment will never come from the grand, as any attempt to create the grandest will only beg the question: what can be grander?
In Zima’s pursuit of fulfillment through the grand, he kept creating, and he kept changing. He made large detailed installations, painted whole asteroid belts, changed his entire being, among other things—but none of that ever gave him the fulfillment he seeked. He later found this peace in the quantifiable measurement of success that is the cleanliness of a pool. By creating boundaries for himself, he decided what success meant for him through a benchmark he has set for himself.
It’s easy to get carried away in the pursuit of more, more, more. Why? Because that’s what the world tells us to do. Like Zima, we are conditioned to think that we have to create something of scale and of public notice in order to be great. What Zima Blue wants to tell us is to focus on what you’re doing right now now—no matter how big or how popular—and to be great at it regardless. Being good where you are right now is an achievement of greatness in itself.
Always go back to your purpose.
Zima was initially created to clean a pool. It was not meant for him to be capable of fixing furniture, much less create art. Those were roles set for other machines in his inventors’ household. As his consciousness grew along with his capabilities, he realizes that all that he has been doing was not his intended purpose, but rather what was prescribed to him by his new owners. Zima, then, once he had the power to do so, turns his back on everything the world applauds him for to return to what he believes is his purpose—to clean a pool.
At the end of the day, we choose what we do with our lives, we choose our purpose. Once you have decided what your purpose is, you will realize that there is no truly meaningless work, no matter how simple, mundane, or small it may seem. Your purpose adds your own meaning to what you do—even if it is something most would consider as mundane as cleaning a pool.
Do not allow other people to determine your greatness.
Zima Blue is a reminder to stop basing your self-worth on your achievements and deciding your purpose based on the validation of the world. Even if you’re not a world-renowned artist like Zima, it won’t always be easy to turn back on opportunities that offer so much prestige, no matter how much of a toll it takes on your health or relationships. This is because it has been embedded within us to need so much external validation for our work to the point that it is a metric of our success or worth.
The noise of the world can be so loud and the pressure of society so overwhelming that you feel like you have no choice but to follow, but it is important to tune in to who you are amidst everything the world has told you to be. Like Zima, make the oftentimes difficult decision to walk away from things that take so much from you and deviate you from your purpose in exchange for nothing but praise and prestige.
The lessons of Zima Blue spoke volumes to me as the messages it wishes to impart are timely for we who live in a time that glorifies hustling and burning ourselves out. I’m not telling you to quit your job and start cleaning pools. However, I am telling you to ask yourself what your purpose is and check if what you’re spending most of your waking hours doing now serves that purpose. Like Zima, you could be going all-out and changing yourself only to realize you’re doing it all for something that isn’t meant for you.