In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb darkest hour ver3

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.

Thumb man who invented christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Not particularly keen on nuance or subtlety, this is a film in which everything, especially Stevens’ decidedly manic take on Dickens, is pitched as broadly…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

The Fire Within

The Fire Within Movie Review
  |   May Contain Spoilers

Seems to me it was John Huston who observed that a movie shouldn't be "based" on a book but inspired by it. Movies that are faithful to the book are usually dull and plodding affairs, because the things that make a book good are far removed from what makes a movie work. So the director should distill the essence of the book, Huston decided.

Louis Malle has done that brilliantly in "The Fire Within," which isn't exactly based on Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" but is certainly inspired by it. Indeed, Malle's hero reads the Fitzgerald story in the days before his suicide, finishing the last page just before he pulls the trigger. So that the two men -- Fitzgerald's and Malle's -- live parallel lives.

Advertisement

Malle is one of the less-known French New Wave directors (although his "Zazie" is a film society favorite), and this film never received a U.S. commercial release after its triumph at the 1964 New York Film Festival. So it comes to us now as a rediscovered treasure, a film that would have been influential for the past five years -- if only it had been shown.

Malle's character seems superficially similar to Fitzgerald himself. He is a writer, living in Paris, who lived in New York for a while but is now divorced from his wife there. And he is an alcoholic, whose addiction had undermined his confidence in his art and his manhood. We find him living in a rest home, where he voluntarily took the cure and then decided to stay.

He lives in a bemused and private world. He speaks softly to himself, he hums, he moves silently about his room, he toys with esoteric bric-a-brac, he is preoccupied with the enormous thought of his own death. Urged by the doctor to leave because he is "cured," the writer goes to Paris one day and systematically revisits several of his friends. He drinks too much and makes a fool of himself at a party; he questions the fundamental worth of his friends' bourgeois existence; finally he comes back to the home and, hardly seeming moved even now, kills himself.

The film is a triumph of style. It is quiet and indicative. It doesn't explain a lot, but we understand a lot about it all the same. And in the concerned, indifferent, kind, cruel behavior of his friends, we see ourselves acting toward people like him, or acted toward by people like them. Rarely does a film so carefully portray this complexity of personal relationships.

Popular Blog Posts

Why I Stopped Watching Woody Allen Movies

Stop watching movies made by assholes. It'll be OK.

Netflix's Marvel Spin-off "The Punisher" is a Lightweight

A review of Netflix's new Marvel series, "The Punisher."

“Call of Duty” and “Wolfenstein” Redefine the Modern WWII Game

A review of two of the biggest games of 2017, a pair that use World War II in very different ways.

60 Minutes on: "Wonder Woman"

One of the best superhero films, in large part because the title character sincerely believes in values larger than a...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus