Sudden fame and a self-destructive lifestyle were taking a toll on Jack Kerouac's mind and body following the unparalleled success of the groundbreaking novel, On The Road. Once the handsome literary maverick and hero of the Beat Generation, Kerouac now sees only a vestige of his former self, ravaged by alcohol and drugs, aged beyond his years and tormented by self-doubt. Questioning his talent, his faith, and his mortality, Kerouac leaves New York for California, on a quest for redemption at an isolated, fog-banked cabin in the primitive landscape of the Big Sur woods. What ensues in those fateful 3 weeks of August, 1960, is both terrifying and revelatory. While Kerouac is able to find beauty and elation in his surroundings, the dichotomy of his psyche renders him unable to face his demons alone. He sets off on a visceral collision course of paranoia, sex, delirium tremens, misery and madness. His desperation culminates in an intense, hallucinatory breakdown, but the duality of his ... Written by
It's impossible to discuss this movie without putting it in the context of "On The Road", which could not find an audience. Knowledge of who Kerouac was is limited in the TV age; and his books, all fictionalized tales, yet autobiographical in nature (and to some a serialized mythology of an artist's life) are reduced to a cult-fan base in this era. If the iconic road story that launched Kerouac into the literary firmament was rejected by the Superhero loving movie audience of today, what chance does a psychological internal monologue about an artist's descent into alcoholism have.
So we are left with a simple dividing line: do you know the work of Kerouac and the milieu of "The Beats"? If you don't, then this movie will seem odd and slow-paced, overwhelmingly pointless and pretentious. If you are a fan, then we are confronted with another question: Is simply seeing the narratives underlying Kerouac's poetic stream of conscious writing brought to life worth dealing with the limitations of converting works of art that are not plot-based to film? Like "On The Road", "Big Sur" delivers a simple enough joy to the Kerouac fan. There it is: a dramatization of Kerouac's iconic writings, replete with tons of required voice-over narration of the jazz-based flowing verbiage that makes Kerouac Kerouac. But, you can't help but think, wow-it's just not possible to make a conventional movie out of a Kerouac story, you must have excessive narration, because Kerouac was entirely about the words - the rhythm, the cadence, the explosion of images and alliterations. None of this is bad, but it requires an acceptance of the source we are dealing with to accept such an extensive override of normal plot-driven movie storytelling.
The movie is well directed. Polish mixes imagery well, establishes mood and atmosphere, and handles the semi-hallucinatory descent into alcoholic stupor with a pleasant restraint.
The actors all do top-notch work, although some of the peripheral characters such as Lew Welch, Ferlinghetti, and Whalen seem to have no emotional connection to the main character or his problems. They are just there. Even Neal Cassady ultimately fades away at the end.
Kate Bosworth enters the movie halfway through the story and become the last lifeline that Kerouac throws away. While undeveloped as a character, she does a fine job representing the last real thing left to hold onto. She fits the role well, and plays out heart-wrenching string aptly, as a character smart enough and jaded enough to cope with her fate.
As a fan of Kerouac, I can say that there is so much good about this movie and it's straight forward attempt at delivering Kerouac's last important novel as a film, that I would recommend it highly to anyone that enjoyed "On the Road" as a film. If you were bored with OTR, or didn't get it, you will not enjoy this subtle intelligent movie.
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