Coppola’s return after 10 years. I was psyched to see this. But leading up to it, this movie got surprisingly poor reviews; most of them saying it was confusing and they did not get it.
Now that I’ve seen Youth Without Youth I can say I did not get it either. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t like a David Lynch movie where I did not understand the obscure symbolism. No, this is different. I understood everything that happened in the plot and everything Coppola was putting on the screen. What I did not understand was what the bloody point of the movie was.
Stuff just happens, events unfold, and during the whole time I felt there was no moral, no message, no point to any of this. The plot can be broken up into three short stories. The first is about an old linguistics professor (played by Tim Roth) who lost the love of his life years ago when he chose his profession over his personal life. He is struck by lightning, but instead of dying, he is made young. Dominic is not only younger, but has enhanced mental capabilities. You could even call him an evolved superman. The second short story is about Dominic fleeing from Nazis who want to study him. The third short story is where Dominic meets a woman who looks exactly like the his original lost love. He must then choose again between love and his work.
Coppola tries to throw in deep messages and concepts, but even he does not know what the hell he wants to say about them. Dominic has this alter ego as a result of the lightning strike; a “double”. Coppola said in the commentary he wanted to say something of the nature of duality: reason and Eros, yin and yang, up and down, good and evil. The problem is Coppola even says; he has no idea what Dominic’s double represents or what it means. Dominic’s double is not evil, and even offers helpful advice at times. The worst you could say is that he is a more cynical side of Dominic’s bookish behavior. Coppola also adds A LOT about Buddhism and Chinese mythology and the nature of dreams. But none of this raises above even the crappiest episode of Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits. Really, this is a Twilight Zone crossed with a 30’s romantic melodrama. THAT’S IT! That’s the mystery behind Youth Without Youth. It’s a lot of flash to make up for the fact it has no real substance.
I do have to give Coppola credit though. Youth is a beautiful movie modeled in the fashion of a 30’s melodrama and is a real homage. The cinematography is great and, well, it’s a damn sight better than Jack. Also Tim Roth is brilliant in the role of Dominic and Bruno Ganz also does a great job. But is it really a surprise that Ganz and Roth are great actors?
This wasn’t a total loss. As I said this seems like Coppola has found his passion again and his direction is great. The problem is with the short story size source material expanded to a 2 hour film. There are plot inconsistencies, story lines that go nowhere, and half baked imagery and symbolism. A disappointment, but hopefully a sign of better things to come.