This drama centers on Hank Chinaski, the fictional alter-ego of "Factotum" author Charles Bukowski, who wanders around Los Angeles, CA trying to live off jobs which don't interfere with his primary interest, which is writing. Along the way, he fends off the distractions offered by women, drinking and gambling.
Self-declared aspiring writer Hank Chinaski has neither qualifications, ambition nor ethics. Any dead-end job he lands is soon lost through laziness or mischief. His relationship with fellow deadbeat Jan gets strained to crisis through her insecurity, so he even gives up betting on horses which brought in easy money.Written by
Anytime that a picture promises to depict a myriad of social decay: sex, alcoholism, misogyny, masochism, vagrancyI am at once attracted. In Factotum, director Bent Hamer sprinkles the screen with such squalor, yet done with such adroitness and comedic care, that the film achieves what any film of this genre should ever set out to do: turn the downtrodden, the brackish, the man caged in penury, into a hero.
Like Frederick Exley's character in A Fan's Notes, Bukowski's Henry Chianski, ice delivery man, cum pickle sorter, cum statue sweeper, cum writer, is dependent on alcohol, which oxymoronically, is necessary for his survival. As the title of the film connotes, Chinaski, played deftly by Matt Dillon, can't hold down a job longer than it takes to take a slug of whiskey, which undoubtedly is his first love, followed closely by long-legged women with taut genitaliahis words, not mine.
Chinaski finds his reflection in Jan, played by Lili Taylor, who complements his transient, lush lifestyle. One of the most telling scenes is one where Chinaski is seen retching over a toilet one morning after excessive drinking, which is subsequently followed a moment later by Jan copying Chinaski's keck.
Ultimately, Factotum is not a parable that preaches: it's clearly not that, if anything it glamorizes a sordid lifestyle. What it does achieve is to show that greatness comes in many forms and that once the outer core of despair is broken down, then only is truth found. That truth: Chinaski had a clear voice and, as any quasi-philosopher tries to do, he had his own vision of virtue and the reasoning we use to get there.
Whether or not Bukowski's Chinaski or Exley's Exley was the bigger hero is debatable. And while both drank big, they too wrote big and were apathetic toward public condemnation. While their actions may not have been virtuous, their disregard for virtue was.
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