Sunday, 22 September 2013

Youth Without Youth (4 Stars)

Who am I? I'm a king who's dreaming that he's a butterfly who's dreaming he's a king. Or maybe I'm a God who's dreaming that he's a man who's dreaming that he's a God who doesn't want to be a God. He dreams about being a man to escape from his burdens as a God, but in his human form he yearns for Godhood and dreams of it when he lies in bed at night.

Tim Roth plays Dominic Matei, a Romanian professor of linguistics. It's 1938, and he's 70 years old. All his life he's been working on a book about the origin of language, but it's now become apparent that he will never complete his life work. He remembers that he gave up the only woman he has ever loved in order to work on his book. Now he has nothing. He travels to Bucurest, a city where nobody knows him, with the intention of committing suicide. While walking from the train station a miracle happens: he's struck by lightning, and his body is transformed. He's a young man once more, and his intelligence has increased to a phenomenal level. He can now learn any language just by listening to it. But it goes further than that: he can now read and memorise whole books just by touching them. Language, written or spoken, is his to command.

Dominic uses his new life to continue with his book. But he doesn't make real progress until 1956, when he meets a young woman who has also been struck by lightning. She is able to speak the languages that she spoke in her former reincarnations, so Dominic works with her while also falling in love with her.

This film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is deeply mystical. On the surface it's about language, but it's also about reality and the essence of being. This is not a big step. Branches of philosophy such as logical positivism see a one-to-one relationship between language elements and objects in the real world. To understand language is to understand the world. The film doesn't give any answers about the meaning of life, but it raises a lot of questions.

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