The Philosophy of Rick and Morty: What Everyone’s New Favorite Cartoon Has in Common with Albert Camus

“Nobody exists on pur­pose, nobody belongs any­where, every­body’s gonna die.” So, in one episode of Rick and Morty, says the four­teen-year-old Morty Smith, one of the show’s tit­u­lar co-pro­tag­o­nists. With the oth­er, a mad sci­en­tist by the name of Rick Sanchez, who also hap­pens to be Morty’s grand­fa­ther, he con­sti­tutes the ani­mat­ed team that has enter­tained thou­sands and thou­sands of view­ers — and made insa­tiable fans of seem­ing­ly all of them — over the past four years. To those few who haven’t yet seen the show, it may just look like a sil­ly car­toon, but the true fans under­stand that under­neath all of the mem­o­rable gags and quotable lines lies an unusu­al philo­soph­i­cal depth.

“The human desire to ful­fill some spe­cial exis­ten­tial pur­pose has exist­ed through­out his­to­ry,” says video essay­ist Will Schoder in his analy­sis of the phi­los­o­phy of Rick and Morty. But the tit­u­lar duo’s adven­tures through all pos­si­ble real­i­ties of the “mul­ti­verse” ensure that they expe­ri­ence first­hand the utter mean­ing­less­ness of each indi­vid­ual real­i­ty.

When Morty breaks that bleak-sound­ing news to his sis­ter Sum­mer with the now oft-quot­ed line above, he actu­al­ly deliv­ers a “com­fort­ing mes­sage”: once you con­front the ran­dom­ness of the uni­verse, as Rick and Morty con­stant­ly do, “the only option is to find impor­tance in the stuff right in front of you,” and their adven­tures show that “friends, fam­i­ly, and doing what we enjoy are far more impor­tant than any unsolv­able ques­tions about exis­tence.”

Schoder, also the author of a video essay on Rick and Morty co-cre­ator Dan Har­mon’s mytho­log­i­cal sto­ry­telling tech­nique as well as one we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured about David Fos­ter Wal­lace’s cri­tique of post­mod­ernism, makes the clear philo­soph­i­cal con­nec­tion to Albert Camus. The philoso­pher and author of The Stranger wrote and thought a great deal about the “con­tra­dic­tion between humans’ desire to find mean­ing in life and the mean­ing­less­ness of the uni­verse,” and the absur­di­ty that results, a notion the car­toon has dra­ma­tized over and over again, with an ever-height­en­ing absur­di­ty. We must, like Sisy­phus eter­nal­ly push­ing his rock uphill, rec­og­nize the true nature of our sit­u­a­tion yet defi­ant­ly con­tin­ue “to explore and search for mean­ing.” Morty, as any fan well knows, offers Sum­mer anoth­er solu­tion to her despair: “Come watch TV.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Camus: The Mad­ness of Sin­cer­i­ty — 1997 Doc­u­men­tary Revis­its the Philosopher’s Life & Work

David Fos­ter Wal­lace on What’s Wrong with Post­mod­ernism: A Video Essay

The Phi­los­o­phy of The Matrix: From Pla­to and Descartes, to East­ern Phi­los­o­phy

The Phi­los­o­phy of Bill Mur­ray: The Intel­lec­tu­al Foun­da­tions of His Comedic Per­sona

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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