Youth Without Youth takes us through a strange loop that demands us both cognitively and visually to ask similar questions about love, memory, and death. The film begins with the familiar image of an anxiety-ridden intellectual who, failing (or finally succeeding?) to fall asleep, enters a dreamlike state that eventually, at the end of the film, culminates in his death. The loop effect is heightened by the film’s frequent use of canted angles, flipped images, deep color contrast, and haunting chants in ancient tongues that leaves us constantly wondering where and when the dream begins and reality ends. [...]
Youth Without Youth
“Youth Without Youth” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Gun violence, sexual congress, female nudity, metaphysics.
So warns the caption to Manohla Dargis’s review
in the New York Times. [...]
By some sort of happy coincidence—or to use the surrealist term referenced by Jeremy Biles, “objective chance”—I watched Youth Without Youth the same day that I viewed another movie about the “facts” of enchantment as they appeared in the twentieth century, Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997). Though doing so with admittedly different artistic aspirations and audiences, both movies allude to historical characters and controversies in the study of religion.
Francis Ford Coppola has made Eliade whole again. He has given him back to us. Youth Without Youth is a beautiful example of Eliade’s fascination with the paranormal. It involves an aging mediocre humanist academic named Dominic Matei who, after traveling to Bucharest in 1938 to commit suicide (on Easter day, no less), is struck on the top of the head by lightning while crossing a street in front of a church. Lifted right off the ground in a stunning and literally shocking scene that could be read as a religious ecstasy or as a physical horror, Matei is left lying in the rain, charred over his entire body. Over the next few weeks and months, he magically regenerates in the hospital, eventually metamorphosing not into a giant cockroach, as in Kafka, but into a young handsome man with astonishing, indeed occult, intellectual powers.
Seen with a genealogical eye, Youth Without Youth speaks to the sheer danger of the sacred as the robust object of mystical longing. But whereas Eliade’s reactionary technophobia limited his appreciation for how the “countless machines mass-produced in industrial societies” were, themselves, constitutive of his experience of the sacred, Youth Without Youth suggests that technology has everything to do with our ability to imagine—whether in the service of embracing or rejecting—the sacred.
Francis Ford Coppola’s rendition of Mircea Eliade’s novel Youth Without Youth opens with a montage of clocks woozily bending. These fluctuating clocks, reminiscent of the iconic melting timepieces in Salvador Dalí’s famous painting “The Persistence of Memory,” appropriately open a movie that, as Coppola has said, seeks to explore “Time and Interior Consciousness.” While I found Coppola’s movie to be intermittently ponderous, melodramatic (without the saving grace of campiness), and mired in “mystery” while lacking in suspense, it nonetheless highlights some possibilities and problems associated with Eliade’s understanding of time, which he calls “the supreme ambiguity of the human condition.”