Stephen Speicher

The Libertine (2004)

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11 posts in this topic

Unfortunately, this movie was marketed as the biography of a debaucher, and, in some ways, it is. Furthermore, the Earl of Rochester is not known as a writer of famous, high-minded poetry, so one's first impression is "who cares?"

However, if you like movies, passing this up would be a mistake. If you do decide to watch it, I ask you not to get caught up in the historical details: do not worry too much about whether Rochester wrote lewd poetry, or whether he really is that historically important, etc. Take the story on its own terms, as a stunningly-crafted lesson in the futility of malevolence, and in the importance of chasing your dreams.

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It is the Restoration, a period of the intellect, and the high-minded English King Charles II would like to see a literary masterpiece composed in his honor. To fulfill this task, he turns to his friend, John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester.

The trouble is, Rochester has chosen the death premise, consciously and unapologetically. He devotes himself to spurning all that is good and great. But, he retains one weakness in this respect: he loves to see good, well-produced plays.

Right from the start, we see Rochester revel in his short-range lifestyle, sneering at every opportunity. We rightly judge him a ne'er-do-well and wonder why the king bothers with him, until a strange thing happens, which I cannot reveal here - and it is a dramatically powerful moment. In that scene, we are convinced of his talents and furious that he fails to feed them.

The structure and sound of the dialogue in this movie is as good as it gets for the genre. Rochester's own poetry is used here to provide insight into his mental states. These scenes, sometimes rendered as dreams, are captivating.

The end of the movie finds Rochester looking for redemption, but it is clear he has come to a bad end. Yet, somehow, the story of his violent attention to death serves to affirm the importance of life.

This is the best Johnny Depp performance I've ever seen. Malkovich is competently regal as Charles (although his accent slips a little). Samantha Morton is electric as the actress through whom we discover what Rochester might have been.

The direction (a debut by Laurence Dunmore), cinematography, and screenplay are top-notch.

And, oh, did I mention it was scored by Michael Nyman (Gattaca, The Piano)?

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I thought Depp was wonderful. In terms of his character, I liked his intellect and his daring, and social independence. But you can't escape the obvious and dominant negative side of him. It does eventually became horrific. I doubt whether many of the more mature Objectivists on this forum can stomach it. It's not because they are mature but because they have better things to do than to see a series of events by which a man destroys his life.

Jose Gainza.

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However, if you like movies, passing this up would be a mistake.

Going to see this film was a mistake, precisely because I do love movies. Having read Mercury's reasons for praising this film, I can only suspect that my sense of life and movie critic compadre Mercury has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by another being. I demand the aliens return Mercury immediately! Or, alternatively, I may have inadvertently eaten a poisoned mushroom with lunch and I hallucinated while watching the film. B)

All kidding aside ... I have so often agreed with Mercury about so many movies that I am utterly perplexed at the extent of our differing evaluations of The Libertine. I thought it was such a bad movie that I could barely get through seeing it to the end. I will say this, though. Based on my past agreements with Mercury about films, I will give this movie a second try when it plays on cable. Although it is rare, a couple of times in the past upon seeing a movie the second time, my perspective has changed. I hope this happens with The Libertine, but I am not optimistic.

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p.s. I gave it a 2 rating just because of the existence of Johnny Depp and John Malkovitch, two of my favorite actors. But their mere presence could not save The Libertine.

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Going to see this film was a mistake, precisely because I do love movies. Having read Mercury's reasons for praising this film, I can only suspect that my sense of life and movie critic compadre Mercury has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by another being. I demand the aliens return Mercury immediately! Or, alternatively, I may have inadvertently eaten a poisoned mushroom with lunch and I hallucinated while watching the film. B)

The aliens did try to get me, but I showed them the Eisenheim Maneuvre! It was a close encounter of the could-you-let-me-finish-my-dinner kind. :D

All kidding aside ... I have so often agreed with Mercury about so many movies that I am utterly perplexed at the extent of our differing evaluations of The Libertine. I thought it was such a bad movie that I could barely get through seeing it to the end. I will say this, though. Based on my past agreements with Mercury about films, I will give this movie a second try when it plays on cable. Although it is rare, a couple of times in the past upon seeing a movie the second time, my perspective has changed. I hope this happens with The Libertine, but I am not optimistic.

Don't get me wrong, the movie's sense of life is not uplifting and heartening in the way that, say, Meet Joe Black is. The attitude of the king towards Rochester, and the early part of Rochester's relationship with Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton's actress) gave the story whatever benevolence it had. The life-affirmation I wrote about is philosophical and comes across by contrast: Life is good, don't throw it away.

I actually didn't see it on the big screen because I thought it would be far too malevolent. I remained curious about the movie, however, and watching a film at home enables me pay closer attention to the means used in creating it.

I guess I was primed for The Libertine. Not long before renting it, I had severely tested my sense of life against perhaps the worst out there by sitting through seasons 1 and 2 of the MEGA-malevolent(!) but stylistically-superior HBO series, Deadwood, on DVD. The show had been recommended to me 2 years ago by another Objectivist movie buff. Deadwood makes The Libertine seem like a walk in a park in the clouds.

If there isn't a good, benevolent movie out, sometimes I'll rent or see a movie (or more recently, part of a TV series) with an interesting premise or promising craftmanship. Occasionally, I run into something worth remembering or recommending.

For instance, The Last King of Scotland and Harsh Times are both heavily malevolent, but I wanted to be able to judge the performances of Forest Whitaker and Christian Bale first-hand before the award season begins.

Well, I hope you are able to see The Libertine again, but if looking for something benevolent and clever to watch very soon, I think The Queen would be a good way to spend a couple of free hours. :D

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Don't get me wrong, the movie's sense of life is not uplifting and heartening in the way that, say, Meet Joe Black is.

I deliberately referred to The Libertine as a "bad movie" because I did not want to detail and focus on the ways in which this film disappointed me. My objection was not simply toward its sense of life -- when viewing a film I can separate out my personal sense of life response from judging the film on its artistic merits -- but primarily because the story lacked much in the way of substance and I often found it an embarrassment that great actors like Depp and Malkovich had to utter much of the lines they were given. I thought the editing helped to create an even more disjoint experience with a flow of events that were at times disconnected. Aside from that ... B)

Actually, I did think some of the scenes were rather beautifully done, from a sheer visual perspective. But, in my view this was not sufficient and even Depp and Malkovich could not save the film. And, like yourself, I too "was primed for The Libertine," which is oerhaps why I was even more disappointed than had I seen the film cold.

If there isn't a good, benevolent movie out ...

If you are looking for a benevolent world you had best steer clear of Babel. Despite some naturalistic elements it is very artistically done, but without a doubt it was one of the most sad and depressing movies I have ever seen. Also, as another data point for Brad Pitt's acting ability, he very well portrays some character aspects in this movie that are completely different from anything else I have seen from him.

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I would like to add that this is the only movie that I have ever truly walked out on...after falling asleep in the movie theater!

I've sat through some pretty boring movies before, as well as some movies that require an immense amount of attention. But quite frankly, I could not get into the Libertine.

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If you are looking for a benevolent world you had best steer clear of Babel. Despite some naturalistic elements it is very artistically done, but without a doubt it was one of the most sad and depressing movies I have ever seen. Also, as another data point for Brad Pitt's acting ability, he very well portrays some character aspects in this movie that are completely different from anything else I have seen from him.

Aarrgh! Too late! B)

I saw it yesterday evening. It was just as you described; I even found some scenes cruel (like when they gave us the schoolgirl's "perspective" in the nightclub). Right until the last minutes, I had been able to fight off the sadness with wonder: "Why would anyone write and film this?" I thought. But my dam broke in the memorable closing shot.

Overall, it came across as a copy of last year's Crash, and I couldn't help second-guessing the filmmakers. Were they trying to cash in on Crash's Oscar success? But, that was probably unfair of me.

I too noticed Pitt's performance, which was my primary motivation for going to see Babel. I was just as surprised as you were. The man plumbed new depths in this one.

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If you are looking for a benevolent world you had best steer clear of Babel. Despite some naturalistic elements it is very artistically done, but without a doubt it was one of the most sad and depressing movies I have ever seen. Also, as another data point for Brad Pitt's acting ability, he very well portrays some character aspects in this movie that are completely different from anything else I have seen from him.

Aarrgh! Too late! B)

I saw it yesterday evening. It was just as you described; I even found some scenes cruel (like when they gave us the schoolgirl's "perspective" in the nightclub). Right until the last minutes, I had been able to fight off the sadness with wonder: "Why would anyone write and film this?" I thought. But my dam broke in the memorable closing shot.

Overall, it came across as a copy of last year's Crash, and I couldn't help second-guessing the filmmakers. Were they trying to cash in on Crash's Oscar success? But, that was probably unfair of me.

Several times during the film I had a similar thought as you, in that the structure of the fim was quite reminescent of Crash. (At one point in the movie, when Amelia and the children were being driven back from Mexico with the children, I even expected to see a car crash as the culmination of that arc of the story.) I'm not sure, but I think with Crash there was more integration of the characters and events than with Babel.

I too noticed Pitt's performance, which was my primary motivation for going to see Babel. I was just as surprised as you were. The man plumbed new depths in this one.

I defended Pitt against those who thought absurd the very notion of him playing Galt in Atlas Shrugged, but I did so with half a heart. I'm glad that I found the other half in viewing this film.

p.s. Looks like we are back on track in regard to films. :D

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I'm not sure, but I think with Crash there was more integration of the characters and events than with Babel.

I agree - Crash's tapestry seemed richer, with more characters, and much more of a philosophical tilt.

p.s. Looks like we are back on track in regard to films. B)

I never had any doubt - it was only a minor glitch in the Matrix. :D

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