One of controversial gay filmmaker Derek Jarman's final efforts, WITTGENSTEIN affords filmgoers a generous taste of his sensibilities in the form of a humorous, highly stylized portrait of one of the 20th century's most influential philosophers.
From the onset, the British filmmaker puts his distinctive stamp on the life of Ludwig Von Wittgenstein, engineering a terrific opening sequence in which viewers are introduced to various overdressed members of Ludwig's exceedingly eccentric--and filthy rich--family. As a young man, Wittgenstein
studies under Bertrand Russell at Cambridge and later returns to teach, spending many of his happiest days attempting to define the limits of language. In a radical departure from the conventional thinking of the time, Wittgenstein expresses the belief that "there are no genuine philosophical
problems; philosophy is simply a byproduct of misunderstanding language." He further states that "the limits of language are the limits of one's world" and "to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life." And finally: "The most important thing about philosophy is what it can't explain."
Ludwig goes to the front during WWI, ostensibly to become a man, only to be taken prisoner. Afterwards, Wittgenstein, an intellectual aristocrat, goes to teach in the provinces where he proves a dismal failure.
Throughout his adult life, Wittgenstein extolled the virtues of the common man, sustaining an almost religious reverence for manual labor. Fittingly enough, he preferred detective fiction and Carmen Miranda musicals to Aristotle. Fitting, too, that he falls in love with Johnny (Kevin Collins),
the exceptionally handsome but impoverished philosophy student whose hardworking parents have sacrificed everything to send him to school. Given the unpleasantness of Ludwig, however, their mutual attraction is rather hard to buy. By all accounts, Ludwig was inordinately preoccupied with the
difficult task of being a decent human being in a mediocre world. But despite his remarkable intellect, he's portrayed as a nasty, dour man who rated himself a failure and remained unreconciled to his homosexuality. After retreating to the coast of Ireland he finally succumbed to prostate cancer.
WITTGENSTEIN represents something of a distillation of the trademark Jarman style, with scenes played out against a black backdrop, brilliantly colorful costumes and a distinctive panache. Interestingly enough, he's managed to pare back the visual trappings of his work further than ever before
while simultaneously becoming increasingly painterly. Along with co-screenwriters Terry Eagleton and Ken Butler, Jarman succeeds in making complex philosophical ideas readily accessible. As for Mr. Green (Nabil Shaban), the Martian who banters periodically with young Ludwig, the less said, the
better. It's difficult to reconcile the precocious, rather flip child (Clancy Chassay) with the dour adult Ludwig. As portrayed by Karl Johnson, he's utterly devoid of charm. Jarman regular Tilda Swinton (CARRAVAGIO, EDWARD II) fares much better--she's marvelous, in fact--as the legendary
dilettante Lady Ottoline Morrell. Sadly, Jarman succumbed to AIDS on February 19th, 1994 after a lengthy, heroic battle with the illness. But his prolific output, including BLUE and the posthumous GLITTERBUG, have assured him a significant place in the history of British cinema. (Adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: One of controversial gay filmmaker Derek Jarman's final efforts, WITTGENSTEIN affords filmgoers a generous taste of his sensibilities in the form of a humorous, highly stylized portrait of one of the 20th century's most influential philosophers. From th… (more)