The Soul of a Poet

Jean Cocteau's Orpheus is a strange, compelling little piece, a reinterpretation of the ancient Greek myth into current (well, 1940s) France. Orpheus is a renowned poet, the kind that struggles with truth and beauty and so on. He becomes fascinated with a woman, first identified only as the Princess, to the neglect of his own wife, Eurydice, so much so he doesn't realize she is trying to tell him she is pregnant.

I'll not get into the details of the plot, for unraveling it is part of joy of the film. Beyond mere embellishment, the story takes on an entirely new meaning while being essentially the same.

There are themes of death and dreaming, obsession and obligation, meaning and madness, art and artifice. The entirety of the film luxuriates in its own moodiness, from the fascinations of the characters to the often bizarre and imaginative camera tricks. Mirrors are a central motif, as vision is very important here, both in what is seen and what is not seen.

Inconsistency is found throughout the film, but this is intended. The reality of dreams is malleable, and there is no doubt this is a dream. I do have one major criticism about this approach. If this is Orpheus' dream, then what of the segments where he is not present? He could be dreaming them, but if so, he would know about them and act accordingly elsewhere, and there are several critical places this would make a big difference. The alternative is that it's a shared dream of some sort, but with whom? The fact that there's a narrator whose voice shows up only occasionally doesn't help any.

The problem is the same as I have with Donnie Darko, where the film is a bit of a puzzle box, but one that cannot ultimately be solved. Orpheus gets off the hook somewhat because it doesn't pretend that underneath there is a solution.

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