Youth Without Youth
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always been a fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s work, but continue to find the The Godfather Trilogy (which I’ve recently re-watched in its entirety) placed on too high a pedestal. Yes they are phenomenal pieces of film, containing metanarratives that speak of both honour and family in a way that others have been incapable of examining to such a degree but they are by no means without flaw and for me personally, they are far from the greatest films ever made.
So when Coppola releases a new work, attempting to bend both time and space and philosophically examine both when he has become better know for his progeny and vineyard, it’s hard not to respond with less than a sense of bafflement. Something that only produces further worry when one considers the source material.
Taken in spirit from Mircea Eliade’s musing on religion and more specifically, how his primitive man experiences time cyclically rather than modern man’s linear understanding of the same, it’s a worry that such forced objectivity could breed anything less than confusion when transfered from page to screen. In written form at least, such ideas could be anchored in their permanent (written) form but even with Coppola’s consistent and beautifully lush understanding of framing, this world with all its colour and depth, is incapable of more than the ethereal.
This is only more evident in the lack of any discernible story, with Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) taking Mircea’s place in an undefined world. Starting with Dominic being struck by lighting, hospitalised and discovering his (literally) renewed vitality and youth and delusional self-importance. Reviewing his life over the coming decades whilst evading the Nazi scientific core, he remembers and later rediscovers his old love in another form (Alexandra Pirici), absorbs vast libraries and uses his sociopathic skills to survive.
Dominic is a man of little charm, focused solely on his scholarly examination of language; a deeply flawed assessment when one considers both critical scholars and Wittgenstein. The Crits spend some deal of time discussing the lack of any objective consciousness, even in academia. At best they believe there is an overlapping inter-subjectivity based on everyone’s individual experiences and beliefs. Wittgenstein goes even further and suggests that even language cannot be called objective, as we all use it in such a way that it can carry hidden meanings despite natural occurring commonalities, thus Dominic’s belief in recording a simple history that will effectively solve everything is reductive in the extreme. Perhaps his physical manifestation of his “other”, a separate being in itself, could be a representation of such a dichotomy but this never feels fulling explored, relegated to simple menace.
The cyclical flow of time seems to be examined similar to Marx’s positing of the dialectic, the fusion of age and understanding, bringing about further understanding and neither of the characters feeling time linearly, seems to bring about new theses and antitheses relative to one another. The main obstacle is Coppola’s own resistance, paralysing Dominic in his one dimensional portrayal of outsider observer, incapable of experiencing time around him, stuck in his own abstract reality (a charge put against him early on in the piece).
Worse still, despite his existence in the objective, no explanation is ever given for how Dominic and his love lead the seemingly lavish lifestyle they possess, or even if he loves her as something more than a simple case study who can further his own research. This is again, due to his incapability of being involved in any material way, justifying his methods as a simple case of “the end justifies the means”.
In the end, both the central characters and Coppola finish where they began, incomplete and without any answers, and though these questions are noble, they are wholly flawed in their muddled simplicity; convoluted overall, it is still a worthwhile exercise even if it falls short.