Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review: Youth without Youth

My movie-fu was strong the other night. I watched the opening sequence of Francis Ford Coppola's Youth without Youth (2007), all dissolving clocks and such, and said to M., "It's the 'terror of history.' Where is Mircea Eliade when we need him?"

And it turned out to be made from one of Eliade's novellas.

I have read most of his religious-studies books but (I think) only The Forbidden Forest and The Old Man and the Bureaucrats from among his fictional works.

Bryan Rennie, who has written several books on Eliade, summarizes Eliade's views on time and history:

Eliade contends that the perception of time as an homogenous, linear, and unrepeatable medium is a peculiarity of modern and non-religious humanity. Archaic or religious humanity (homo religiosus), in comparison, perceives time as heterogenous; that is, as divided between profane time (linear), and sacred time (cyclical and reactualizable). By means of myths and rituals which give access to this sacred time religious humanity protects itself against the 'terror of history', a condition of helplessness before the absolute data of historical time, a form of existential anxiety.

When I was in graduate school in the 1980s, two of my professors had been Eliade's students at Chicago, and although they had developed their own ideas, his influence lingered. One brought him to our campus for what must have been one of his last talks and book-signings; the whole event had a rather funereal atmosphere even though the the guest of honor was still breathing.

So what about the movie?

I said that Pan's Labyrinth was gnostic, but this one is more so, in a different sense.

The key to appreciating Youth without Youth then is the idea of circularity and return. It is a love story, but not a linear story. Nor is it (except briefly) about reincarnation in an obvious way. Its dream-logic tries to confront the time-trap of mundane life.

Perhaps if Indiana Jones were a cinematic historian of religion rather than an archaeologist, he would be in this movie. It has Nazis too. But there would be no hair's-breadth escapes.



Blogger Peg A said...

I saw this film last year at a press screening. It is challenging, and perhaps ultimately a bit disappointing if one is expecting classic Francis Ford Coppola. But I enjoyed it.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


I like that. It's like "special."

4:34 PM  

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