As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Youth Without Youth

Posted by Hedwig on May 27, 2008

Youth Without Youth: an ironic title for a movie so obviously made with an old-man’s perspective, and all about the fear of growing old, the fear of slow, inevitable decay. “Youth is wasted on the young”, says the cliché, but the movie suggests it might be wasted on the old, too.

This movie is an intriguing creature, more poetry than narrative. It’s meant to be philosophical but ends up as more of a dream on philosophy than a true exploration, flitting from one thought, one question to the next without even attempting to find answers. It is, in some ways, a mess, but what a gorgeous, evocative mess it is, from the old-fashioned opening credits to the sad, resigned finale.

It starts out as a Faustian tale, really, with our protagonist (a very good Tim Roth) being rejuvenated by a bolt of lightning, and seeing his newfound youth merely as an opportunity to finally finish his life’s work: getting to the origin of language. But there’s also a bit of an adventure story here – Roth even dons a fedora and battles an evil nazi. It’s a love story, too, with a heart-wrenching conclusion. Then there are the sci-fi elements, though the film is refreshingly devoid of scientific mumbo-jumbo, and underneath it all there’s a rich metaphysical layer full of doubling, symbols and a perpetual awareness that this might all be a dream. After all, this is a dream, as all cinema is, a rich, jumbled dream straight out of Coppola’s head.

My. This is almost starting to sound like a rave. Sometimes it happens that way: you start writing, not quite sure yet about what to think of a film, and it reveals itself bit by bit as you go. It’s apt for a film that’s so much concerned with language that my thoughts didn’t crystallize until I put them into words.

However, for a film about words, its potency stems largely from the gorgeous cinematography. Coppola plays around, flipping images, tilting them, presenting to us a world where everything, even gravity, is fickle, untrustworthy. There’s an amazing sequence in particular in which the girl from room #6 undresses, upside down, and then the image tilts 90 degrees and her dress falls to the floor – which is on the left of the screen. There’s a message there, but it’s also just a wonderful, memorable shot.

It’s all about perception. About what we see, what we think we see. About how we communicate. Dominic’s means of communication start out very rudimentary: after his accident, he is bandaged up like a mummy, and he can only squeeze his hand to express himself. But his means of recording what he witnesses grow more and more sophisticated, until the end we arrive to film: sound and image recorded together, offering a convincing simulacrum of “what happened”, but not necessarily a more objective representation.

I can understand the negative reviews. The movie, overall, lacks a sense of urgency, and probably tries to do too much, losing coherence in the process. But dreams are not supposed to be coherent, and in the best ones you are weightless, just following associations along without needing to get to a final end point.

Of course, at some point we have to wake from every dream, just like as humans, there is one end point all of us, inexorably, are going to. The movie draws that connection, too, and while the ending is ambiguous in some respects, it cannot be misunderstood. Dreams cannot go on forever. But I’m glad I got to dream along with Coppola for an hour or two.


5 Responses to “Youth Without Youth”

  1. I have not seen this one, and my initial interest in it has worn off – but if I get the chance to see it, I will keep all those thoughts in mind.

  2. Daniel said

    Great defense of a film that was nailed by everyone, including me. I certainly appreciated the technical aspects, including the title sequence and tremendous camerawork, and I even kind of liked Tim Roth. But I unfortunately wasn’t in the mood to dream, nor to have the patience to try to piece together any semblance of a story that was in there.

    …and a guy in the theater was walking through the aisles and talking on his cellphone throughout the film, despite the obscenities being screamed at him. This may have contributed to my experience – just a bit. But I won’t blame him.

    I just wanted something to make sense in this dream, especially that confounding ending….

  3. For me this is the kind of movie you just have to surrender to. Let it take you where it will and don’t ask for too careful of an explanation. Feel it rather than analyze it. Something I’m generally not very good at, but I’m very appreciative when I film works on me in that way.

    YWY is a bit of a mess in some ways, but it’s also wonderful in others. And beautiful. I look foward to seeing it again.

  4. Daniel said

    I totally know where you guys are coming from but I just couldn’t find my way there, and it ended up being frustrating instead of fascinating. Oh well, at least it was nice to look at.

  5. It’s also the kind of movie where I don’t question a person’s negative opinion of it…not that you were losing asleep at night worrying what I though.. 🙂

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