Tomorrow at 6:00 AM Eastern Time, on the cable station Turner Classic Movies, the movie “Lust for Life” is airing. I highly recommend the movie, so set your DVRs accordingly.
In 2012 I recommended a movie called “The Moon and Sixpence.” It was based on a W. Somerset Maughm book about a narcissistic paint names Charles Strickland, but that character was based on a real life narcissistic painter named Paul Gauguin. “Lust for Life” is a movie about Vincent Van Gogh based on a Van Gogh biography of the same name written by Irving Stone. Paul Gauguin, the real-life inspiration for the protagonist from “The Moon and Sixpence” is a major figure both in Van Gogh’s life and in this movie.
Kirk Douglas plays Van Gogh, and though he does a very good job at playing the role with incredible intensity and vigor, he doesn’t even make an attempt at an accent. If you’re not used to old movies this can be distracting, especially in this day and age where actors really try to commit to capturing accent authenticity. Once you can overlook this incongruity, the movie is pretty solid. Anthony Quinn plays Gauguin. The affair is directed by one of my favorite directors Vincente Minelli, father of Liza, and director of another movie recommendation of mine, Madame Bovary.
Van Gogh as depicted in this movie is a classic codependent. We see it in his string of failed relationships with women in the early parts of the movie. As a result, there was a lot of self-sabotage in his life, neediness being shown to all the wrong people, a terrible fear of abandonment and social rejection, and a penchant for attracting terrible, abusive people in his life, especially Gauguin, shown here as a narcissist through and through. What makes this movie interesting is that most of the time here we discuss narcissism and codependency in romantic or family relationships, but this is a movie that really explores toxic bonding between a codependent and narcissist in the context of a platonic male friendship.
Some of the dynamics explored will be easily recognizable to readers of this blog, and when the toxic mixture eventually explodes, part of the fallout leads to the infamous incident with Van Gogh’s ear. This movie is a great examination of the human condition and the need we all have for some sort of deep connection.
Fun Fact: The song and album “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop is based on this movie.