Genius #MovieReview #ThomasWolfe

Genius (2016) / Summit Entertainment

The 2016 film “Genius” produced by Summit Entertainment about American writer, Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and his tumultuous relationship with lover Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) and famed editor, Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) was both an enlightening story and a cautionary tale.

The film depicts the story of Thomas Wolfe and his days in New York City trying to get his first book, “Look Homeward, Angel,” a great American classic novel published. The plot centers around the editing process that Wolfe and Perkins endured to get this book and later his second book, “Of Time and the River,” which took over two years to publish.

I was most fascinated by the character development in the film. The portrait of Wolfe as both a literary genius, but at the same time lacking any tact and awareness of those around him. He is portrayed as both a genius in the way he can describe and characterize feelings or a scene, yet he is completely lost when it comes to proper relating with others due to his brutal “honesty” formed by his perception.

The film also explores his co-dependent relationship with Bernstine, a married woman, who is infatuated with Wolfe and also desperate to be needed by him. One of the most difficult scenes is an attempted suicide where she tries to swallow a bottle of pills to “force” Wolfe to save her. Wolfe explains away the incident as a ploy by Bernstine for attention.

The film was an interesting biopic and character study on Thomas Wolfe, an important novelist in American history from the early twentieth century. The film’s portrayal of depression-era New York City, set in the late 1920s and 1930s was a highlight as well.

Overall, for the history buff, it is worth a watch, and a good film, not great.

Another interesting tidbit in the film is a discussion between Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) about when the words and paychecks from royalties dry up. Scott, a few years down the road to Wolfe, speaks of the fickleness of fame and popularity. At the time of Wolfe’s success, Scott’s has significantly slowed and some of his books are already going out of print. The part I see now as intriguing is the enduring popularity of “The Great Gatsby,” read by high schoolers and Americans of any age year after year, while Wolfe’s most celebrated novels have drifted into obscurity in the decades following its release.

I am curious, has anyone read any of Wolfe’s novels before? How were they? The film has piqued my interest to go find and read at least “Look Homeward, Angel.”

– Jason

1937 Portrait of Thomas Wolfe by Carl Van Vechten / Wikipedia


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