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The world is a prison.

Two kinds of people succeed in it: the ambitious mediocre who adapts
himself to the world and the free-spirited genius who adapts the world to himself.

Two kinds fail in the world: the unambitious mediocre and the non-genius (or at least not yet)
free spirit.

I think Antoine belongs to that last category. I wouldn’t see the film in the lines of “what a pity!
So much wasted potential. He could’ve been so useful to society”. This is not about taking an
interesting criminal and turning him into a dull model citizen, as Wilde says somewhere (I’m
paraphrasing). His potential is not wasted, for he never had it in the first place. That is, his
potential to be functional to the system. He wasn’t one of the mediocre. He’s a free-spirit. He
can’t abide by the rules. Yes, with better care he could’ve indeed come to a fate less harmful to
himself, it is true, but his fate is not totally negative, in the sense that at least it put him at
odds with society, his true enemy, without in the end crushing entirely his impulse towards
freedom. He prefers all kinds of “failures”, that is social failures or what society considers a
failure, rather than compromising, rather than giving himself up. And as a result, we label him
a “criminal”. Well, he might very well carry that label with pride. I see a clear optimistic trend
in this film, expressed particularly in the ending. No matter how much they try to break him
(the state, his mother, everyone), he still has it in him to escape and see the sea, which had
been his dream. He still longs for freedom. You get the feeling that, no matter what, he will
never reach the point when he’ll prefer not to have been born, he will always love life, at least
deep down.

So that’s what I mean when I say it is not about wasted potential. If anything, it is about
realized potential. For all we know, the path he’s set on might lead him towards his becoming
a free-spirited genius, and if it doesn’t it will most certainly carry him towards becoming
himself, towards defying society and its rules and morals at every level, in every realm. Let the
mediocre work jobs they hate for a pay that buys things that trap them and make them
unhappy. He’s going to roam the world, and if he ends up behind bars, he’ll still have that
memory of the sea, and he’ll still attempt to escape at every chance, like the first escapee says
he will do, even if it means dying in the process. Being himself implies being willing to pay all
prices. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be himself.

I see the understanding of the film on the lines of the “wasted potential” as a sign of
mediocrity. It is an expression of the desire the mediocre have of seeing the great being
reduced at their height. Well, chaps, guess what. It ain’t happening.