Friday, November 6, 2020

Martin Eden

Pietro Marcello's Martin Eden is based on the autobiographical l909 novel by Jack London. It’s both simple and enormously complex. It deals with the chrysalis of ambition that creates the writer and then produces something which, in this case, is a monstrous mutation. In the beginning the story is a simple bildungsroman. Eden (Luca Marinelli) a sailor comes to the rescue of an aristocratic young man. His bravado is rewarded with entrée to the Orsini family. Elena Orsini  (Jessica Cressy), the sister of the young man who Eden saves, introduces Martin to Baudelaire and fires his interest in becoming a writer. At first his baby steps meet with failure. He’s totally uneducated; his submissions are summarily rejected. Anyone who has been a writer will identify with the manila envelopes returned in the mail. Finally, his first story, The Apostate, is accepted. The title is indicative of Martin’s course which is the act of total renunciation of literally everything, for the sake of the individual. His idol is Herbert Spencer and his beliefs may be summed up as championing the strong over the weak. Ayn Rand navigated a similar territory. There's one scene where Martin is at dinner in the Orsini household. There he rails against liberals with their championing of both the free market and regulation. Actually, the disquisition is both contradictory and confusing. Yet the contrarieties make for Martin’s success. However, there's another side to the movie. Though Martin, now a famous poet and essayist, is a megalomaniacal egotist, he also possesses a complex inner life which Marcello's camera mines. "The writer Martin Eden doesn't exist," Eden intones, "he is a product of your imagination." The viewer is constantly living in a world of sepia shots of the past, gratuitous seeming non sequiturs that can be hard to parse and displacements (at the end of the movie Eden is pictured chasing his youthful self) which fitfully attempt to give access to the writer’s inner world. The virtuosity is often disjointed and can be at odds with the character of Eden itself. However, cinematically, Martin Eden is a bold undertaking which takes liberties with its realistic landscape to create a visual vocabulary that renders its central figure's tortured mind. 

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