Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It was exactly five weeks between when I received Youth Without Youth in the mail and when we finally watched it on Saturday.
My wife and I both knew the critics had railed against Francis Ford Coppola's movie. But the reason I originally moved it to the top of my queue was that she had expressed some interest in seeing it. Since that made two of us, I knew it would get watched, eventually. Had I had my way, we would have watched it weeks ago -- I like to keep my mail rentals moving back and forth. She, on the other hand, was daunted not only by the expectation of poor quality, but by the running time. It was only just over two hours, but she had it in her head that it was pushing three.
It may just as well have been. When the credits started rolling, I turned to her and said, "You know, that film kind of reminded me of--"
"Shebulba?" she finished.
There's a reason we're married.
"Shebulba" is our nickname for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. In The Fountain, Hugh Jackman's character is floating through space on a crop of land enclosed in a bubble, which is dominated by a giant tree. We're never told quite what to make of this tree, but we know Jackman's character is immortal, because we see him as a conquistador, as a doctor fighting to cure his sick wife (Rachel Weisz) in present day, and presumably in the future, when it's possible that the only parts of Earth that remain are him and this tree, floating through space for eternity. At several points, he looks up at the tree, or outer space, or something, and reverentially whispers the following word: "Shebulba." Who or what Shebulba is, we also don't know.
Youth Without Youth was definitely a little too Shebulba.
(Some minor spoilers ahead.)
There's no immortal man or immortal tree, but a 70-year-old Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) does rejuvenate into a man half his age after being struck by a bolt of lightning that basically incinerates his body. Instead of dying, he's suddenly younger, he grows a new set of teeth, and he has the ability to absorb all the knowledge of a book just by passing his hand over it. This is to say nothing of his new ability with languages and his unexplained telekinetic powers. Oh, and did we mention that he now has a doppleganger who may or may not be imaginary? But the comparison with The Fountain really kicks into gear when Dominic's decades-spanning soulmate is introduced. We learn at the start that he loves someone named Laura, and later he meets her -- though she's now known as Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara) -- just before she's about to be struck by lightning herself. The lightning doesn't have the same effect on her -- instead, it makes her think she's someone living in ancient India, who can speak only Sanskrit. She eventually shakes herself free of the split personality, but only temporarily. Each night she awakens speaking a more and more ancient language. It's an epic love story, these lightning strike victims with their very different powers.
If that last paragraph left you wondering what the hell Coppola was thinking, you're not the only one. (He didn't actually make up the story -- the movie was adapted from a story by Romanian author Mircea Eliade.) I actually found this one more watchable than The Fountain, but not by much.
So it got me thinking which other films are way too Shebulba for their own good. Without any further ado:
1) Solaris (2002, Stephen Soderbergh). Ponderous existential sci-fi movie in which characters may or may not actually be there, and people may or may not actually be having the experiences they may or may not actually be having. You heard me right. I don't know if Andrei Trakovsky's 1972 original was any more clear, nor whether it was even supposed to be. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who worship Solaris, but I'm not one of them.
2) Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch). I'm not sure if it's fair to call David Lynch's films "Shebulba," exactly -- he's got a whole brand of weirdness going on that's unique to himself. But Mulholland Drive deserves the designation if any of his films do, though I may be saying that primarily because the whispered word "Shebulba" reminds me of the whispered word "Silencio" that factors into the ponderous third act of Mulholland Drive. I understand The Lost Highway is pretty Shebulba, but I haven't seen it so I can't attest to that personally.
3) The Tree of Life (2010, Terrence Malick). Okay, I'm cheating a little here. This movie has not even come out yet, so I can't possibly know what kind of movie it is. However, it does involve an actual Shebulba in the title -- a life-giving tree, an immortal tree, something like that. And having seen a couple Malick films and written quite a bit about Malick recently, I'm convinced that he's got a Shebulba in him, even if his films so far have had the kind of surface-level realism that should logically remove them from the Shebulba realm.
4) Lady in the Water (2006, M. Night Shyamalan). There are no time jumps or alternate layers of reality in this movie, but all the discussion of narfs and scrunts and other mythological creatures takes this movie into the same la-la-land of inscrutable ambitiousness as Shebulba. Plus, I like any opportunity I get to dump on this movie, which I consider one of the worst I've ever seen.
A couple films I love despite their potential Shebulbosity: The Cell, Donnie Darko
I'm sure there are more, but all this thinking about Shebulba makes my head hurt too much for a Monday morning. I'd love to hear of any Shebulba films you might like to add.