Thursday, 2 January 2014

The nausea of celebrity - Somewhere review

From the Robert Crumb adaptation of Nausea

 In 1938, Jean-Paul Sartre published a book called La Nausée, or Nausea. A seminal book explaining in novel form Sartre's theories on existential angst, Nausea tells the tale of Antoine Roquentin, a biographer with such disgust for himself that he doubt's his very existence. He observes humanity strictly from the outside, overhearing conversations, reading scraps of letters ripped up on the floor. The times when he does try to reach out to his past lover, Annie, he is emotionally unfulfilled. The nausea, the sickness of living in a world which has no meaning, is overpowering.

I remember reading this book when I was about sixteen and being tremendously bored through the first 200 pages. Where is this going? There was a lot of talk about the politician he's writing about, along with self hatred and venomous dislike for "the autodidact" that hogs the books at the library. It was tough going. But then the ending came. The nausea, the sweet sickness, the indifference, is changed into relief. The world is oblivious to the individual, but he realises that, and he is free to make his own meaning in life. The ending was so elating and satisfying that it has stuck with me as a life lesson since.

Fast forward to 2010, where Sofia Coppola has made the film Somewhere about an actor, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his existential angst he is suffering through the vacuum of his celebrity. He sits and doses off as a watches twin pole dances contort depressingly in his Chateau Marmont hotel room (the infamous Los Angeles hotel where John Belushi died injecting a speedball, and, contemporary to the time of this film, Lindsay Lohan was spending a lot on money on room service). He has sex with various women. Oh yeah, his wrist is broken through some kind of drunken accident.

When his eleven year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) is dumped on him to look after, they experience some exciting but quite blasé bonding; he takes her over to Italy so he can accept an award from a camp television show. She's nonplussed when he brings an estranged girlfriend into to their hotel room. He takes her over to Las Vegas via helicopter.

You'd expect maybe some profound statement of fatherly love to happen, but instead he apologises for barely being a father over some loud thumping of the helicopter blades. A somewhat empty gesture as Cleo can barely hear him from the taxi that's going to take her to camp for the summer.

Somewhere is a slow and subdued film, much like Nausea was in prose. It's the everyday mundanities that are depressing, the empty gestures, the meaningless praise. It's these moments we are forced to watch in slow motion. In Nausea, the pace was what what caught up on you in the end, as you end up syncopating your emotions to Roquentin; you feel his boredom, you feel his sickness, and you feel his elation at the end. Somewhere, unfortunately, does not have the same effect. You understand his life is empty, you understand that Cleo brings something to his life that no one else can give him, you know he's had some kind of epiphany at the end, but that seems almost as empty as the rest of the film.

Nausea leaves you with more knowledge to understand this horrible, meaningless around us, and a companion to the ennui with Sartre's protagonist. Somewhere, although effective in its portrayal of emptiness, is somewhat shallow in its message. Celebrities get bored. We already know that.



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