“Learn to love the questions”: Rilke, the quote meaning

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It’s such a beautiful thing when a movie or TV show helps us discover a piece of art that we wouldn’t get to know otherwise. It can happen with paintings, artists, music, and literature. When Obsession came out on Netflix in 2023, we suddenly discovered a quote full of meaning, “learn to love the questions”: a sentence that has an essential role in the TV show as it’s the one that makes Jay discover the affair between Anna and his father, William. The quote is inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke: let’s understand its true meaning.

You can watch the official trailer for Netflix’s Obsession here on Youtube.

“Learn to love the questions”, the quote from Netflix’s Obsession: Rainer Maria Rilke, its origin and meaning

“Learn to love the question” is a quote often mentioned by Anna Barton to her fiancée Jay in the TV series Obsession on Netflix. It’s a cryptic sentence that often leaves Jay puzzled: Anna uses it when she needs to avoid a complicated answer. At a crucial point in the plot, William says the same quote to Jay, and that’s what triggers the suspect in him that there is something between his father and his girlfriend: Jay asks William, “Where did you hear that?” and William quickly replies, “it’s from a poem, isn’t it?” From there, Jay will catch William and Anna together, and Obsession will come to its tragic ending.

Yes, it’s true, the quote “learn to love the question” is inspired by a poem: it’s from Letters to a Young Poet by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. You can find the full poem below:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and to try to love the questions themselves
like locked rooms and like books that are written
in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers,
which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day
into the answer.

“Try to love the questions themselves” basically suggests we should not be obsessed with seeking answers: our life is surrounded by uncertainty, and we will always have doubts, but often the answers won’t be available. That’s why we need to learn to feel good even without answers, enjoying the presence of unsolved questions. “Loving them,” eventually, stopping “seeking the answers.” This will prevent us from getting stuck in doubt, our life will move on more spontaneously, and the answer will arrive autonomously at the right time.

Looking at Anna Barton’s psychology in Netflix’s Obsession, we can easily understand why she uses that quote so often: Anna holds a big secret in her life; there is an internal conflict that she cannot effectively resolve, so she needs to protect the space dedicated to her guilty secret by avoiding questions and justifications. By repeatedly suggesting Jay “love the questions themselves,” she tries to get him used to the absence of a clear answer. This way, Jay will accept living in doubt about what Anna is holding back, and for Anna will be easier to maintain her secrets.

Rainer Maria Rilke is one of the most significant and influential writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his lyrical poetry and his innovative approach to language and style, which set him apart from his contemporaries. Letters to a Young Poet, first published in 1929, is a series of letters addressed to a young aspiring poet that have become a classic of modern literature.

Most spectators watching Obsession didn’t know the quote, its origin, and its true meaning. If you arrived at this article, you can thank the TV series for letting you discover a beautiful piece of literature from the past century.

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