Sep 1, 2010
Arthur Rimbaud was the greatest and most revolutionary poet of his time in part because unlike most artists, he was not a member of the bourgeois class. As the degenerate French philosopher Foucault once mentioned, Rimbaud's mother came from the peasant class and eagerly wanted to become part of the bourgeois. She constantly treated Rimbaud as a potential criminal, instilling a sense of guilt in the young poet that would no doubt have an influence on the decadent poet's prose. Rimbaud felt that he was "exempt from all morality" and lived a short life of wandering decadence. In the film Total Eclipse directed by Agnieszka Holland, the most creative period of Rimbaud's life is chronicled as well his eventual downfall after struggling with a form of cancer the resulted in the amputation of his leg. Despite his highly influential and revolutionary contribution to the art of poetry, Arthur Rimbaud completely quit writing by the age of 21 and died at the young age of 37. Surely not a long life, but his artistic contributions to the world can be matched by very few.
I had some reservations when I found out Leonard DiCaprio played the role of Arthur Rimbaud in Total Eclipse. Of course, DiCaprio did a fine and believable job playing a energetic retard in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Unfortunately for Leo, his reputation is largely based (or at least was) on the awakening sexuality of prepubescent girls and less based on his actual talent as a serious actor. After watching Total Eclipse, it is quite apparent DiCaprio was the right man for the job in regards to playing Rimbaud. Despite being part of a decadent artistic circle, Rimbaud was known for even offending his fellow poets and artists. In Total Eclipse, Rimbaud states of a group of fellow French poets that they are "more bourgeois than the bourgeois" and he was right. Where he differed from his contemporaries is that he saw no limits and no boundaries, hence why he broke new ground in poetry. In Total Eclipse, Leonardo DiCaprio is quite young and even more of a smart ass. In fact, throughout the film, DiCaprio's character becomes rather annoying, displaying a certain hostile and improperly channeled form of energy that was only best expressed in Rimbaud's poetry.
The main plot behind Total Eclipse is Arthur Rimbaud's relationship with the older poet Paul Verlaine. Despite being much older than Rimbaud, Verlaine is a weaker poet and man. In fact, Verlaine is such a weak man that he allows Rimbaud to ruin his family and marriage, on top of being sodomized by the younger poet. It is clear from the start of Total Eclipse that the artistically superior teenage Rimbaud uses Verlaine for his money which allows the two men to travel the world together. The very ugly Paul Verlaine (played without shame by David Thewlis) is obviously in love with the young Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud never returns the love, but instead taunts Verlaine for his mediocrity and ugliness, eventually driving him to the verge of insanity and even attempted murder. The greatest gifts Rimbaud gave to the world were with his hands so it was quite fitting that the drunk Paul Verlaine would shoot him in one of those poetic hands. The chemistry between DiCaprio and Thewlis during these various dramatic and sometimes brutal scenes is certainly powerful to say the least, making one feel the urge to take a break from the film various times to emotionally collect oneself. It is sad to think that DiCaprio had more chemistry with David Thewlis than he did with Kate Winslet in Titanic but I guess that is the magic of the movies.
In a letter to a friend, Rimbaud once stated, "I am condemned; have always been, forever." That single sentence briefly tells the autobiography of the decadent poet's short life. The older poet Paul Verlaine would never truly win over his young friend, but at the conclusion of Total Eclipse he seems to come to terms with this by realizing he was probably the man who best understood and respected the work of Arthur Rimbaud. Seeing as Rimbaud's work was already superior to Verlaine's in his teenage years, his life would also eclipse that of his older friend, leaving the older man to die alone in a drunken stupor. During the conclusion of the film, Paul Verlaine sits pathetically at a bar drunk on absinthe imagining the young Arthur Rimbaud sitting in front of him. Rimbaud's early death was only appropriate for no one could ever keep up with him but he was also marked as the first to go, surely the tragedy of a great poet.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:21 PM
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