Youth Without Youth: Symbols and Motifs

Youth Without Youth, the new ambitious, philosophical film, marks Coppola's first movie in a decade. As befits an allegory, it is replete with visual symbols, which serve the storyline and also deepen the work's philosophical reach.

Lightning Bolt

The first of these is crucial: a lightning bolt. Scientifically, lightning is merely an atmospheric discharge but metaphorically it symbolizes a message from beyond the Earth, be it Heaven or a Divine Being. Its mysterious and divine, powerful and scary, comments Professor Wendy Doniger, who believes Mircea Eliade employed it preventatively e.g. the hand of God stopping Dominics suicide mission. Dominic was meant to live, not die.

Common expressions in Western culture utilize lightning, especially a bolt of
lightning, as a change agent a singular occurrence, which alters something or someone on the spot. Everyone has heard that lightning never strikes twice (in the same place). The fact that lightning can strike the same place twice doesnt weaken the aphorism.

In French and Italian, the expression for love at first sight is coup de foudre
and colpo di fulmine, respectively, which literally translated meansbolt of lightning. In Youth Without Youth, the lightning strike sets the plot wheels in motion, leading to Dominics regeneration as well as his rejuvenation. He uses the extra time well, to enhance his own knowledge as well as gather information for a future generation. By the end of his life, he has made a startling change, from someone who once believed in the primacy of knowledge to a man who believes in love.

The Rose

The rose is an important symbol, possibly Christian in origin, as in the expression
the rose that bloomed on Jesus grave. A rose with layers of open petals could
suggest a process of enlightenment, and may be Buddhist. There are three roses in the film. Two are used by Dominics Double as proof that he is real, not a ghost or figment of the imagination. The third rose signifies a state of grace.

Coppola explains: I wanted to express the idea that Dominic dies in a moment of grace. He loved that girl and sacrificed his lifes work for her. If you have loved and been loved, then you will die with grace.

The Double

The Double is a cross-cultural symbol of duality found in almost every tradition,
be it Greek, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu—or cinema.

Gene Kelly dancing with himself in Anchors Aweigh is just one of countless movie moments showing doubles as only that medium can do.

However, the rascally, sometimes irritating Double in Youth Without Youth is
infinitely more complex. At the most basic level, he is simply another aspect of
Dominic a way of conversing with himself. Doubles react with one another to duke out complex philosophical issues, says Professor Doniger, who has written three books about them. This films Double carries the philosophical burden of the story. He represents a split in Dominics nature between the scientist who wants an explanation for everything the cold side – and the man who meets this woman and wants to stay alive, loving her the warm side.

For Coppola, the Double has both philosophical and cinematic usefulness. Hes a wonderful way of showing inner consciousness and self-awareness. Human beings have a multi-dimensional consciousness, he says. The issues relating to duality are very much related to the religions of India.

Youth Without Youths allegorical structure is built upon this idea of duality–but its not the Cartesian dualism dealing with the relationship between mind and matter prevalent in Western philosophy. There is an essential difference between Eastern and Western ways of interpreting life, Coppola explains. The Indian
philosopher isnt confused when he talks about past, present and future.

But we Westerners find it hard to comprehend the real world as something other than an aid or convenience so we can negotiate our lives. We need to be able to separate up from down, or good from evil, so we can function in the real world. But real existence isnt like that once you understand the concept of duality.

Professor Doniger comments: In Indian philosophy the reason that the line between past, present, and future, and between dreams and material life, can be so easily erased is that time and space, and mental and physical nature, are all embodied in the underlying substance of the universe, which is god, Brahma. All of matter is simply part of our consciousness, which is why we can think the past and think the future, and move between them. Our consciousness, which is part of the divine consciousness, is a kind of bridge between them.

Coppola realizes that the films complexities may be daunting for some moviegoers but he hopes the initial viewing will be sufficiently compelling to encourage a second or third, as happened with Apocalypse Now.

East is East and West is West

Youth Without Youth, first published in English in 1988, reflects the cross-cultural zeitgeist of modernity, not to mention the here-and-now when India is only a phone call away. Allegorical in form, the story references the cultural, historical and religious traditions of both East and West exemplified by the life and work of Mircea Eliade.

Born in Romania in 1907, Eliade was a searcher and adventurer who embraced many aspects of Hinduism without ever rejecting the Christian heritage from which he sprang. His experiences in India, where he lived for several years as a young man, left an indelible mark. The theories of Carl Jung also attracted him. He knew Jung personally, and worked with him in Switzerland for a time.

While Youth Without Youth is fiction and not per se autobiography, it does reflect certain key events in Eliades life, as well as tendencies of the man himself. Like Dominic, Eliade was an intellectual, obsessed with learning and with writing what he learned in books and journals—over 1300 during his lifetime. Eros was an omnipresent, sometimes controversial, theme. In 1938, authorities took umbrage at elements in one of his short stories; he spent time in a concentration camp.

Eliade left Bucharest after this incident, criss-crossing Europe as a cultural attach, teacher and lecturer before moving to the United States in 1956. He never went back home again, not permanently, though the ending of Youth Without Youth suggests he certainly dreamed about it.

The path by which the work of a renowned religious scholar of the 20th century reaches an equally renowned filmmaker starts with Professor Doniger. She worked with Eliade at the University of Chicago and knew him well. He was soft spoken but very bold in his opinions, she says; he had a lovely, puckish sense of humor, was very spritely, courtly and high spirited – great company, a great raconteur.
Eliade employed a free-flowing cinematic style in many of his novels–including Youth Without Youth.

He loved movies and Doniger is confident he would have loved Coppolas adaptation for its innovation in technique, casting of Romanian actors—he was a true patriot—the smoothness of the time transitions, and above all its pervading air of mystical and unfathomable meaning.

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