Jubilee (1978)

Journeying down the rabbit hole of avant-garde cinema can be as rewarding as it is confusing. Rewarding in the sense that you get to see all sorts of weirdness unfold on screen, and confusing in the sense that there’s no guarantee that you’ll have any grasp on what’s going on. That’s the bizarre state of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, a punk-themed art film that lurches from meaninglessness to meaning at no consistent rate.

What is it about? I’m amazed I even know at this point! But seriously, the film starts off with a scene with Queen Elizabeth I and a man named John Dee, who are transported by an angel named Ariel into a desolate Britain where there is apparently no law, no work, no point to living. In that vision of the future, there live a group of nihilistic punks who live by their own interpretation of history, morality, and desire, and sometimes murder people for no given reason.

It’s worth noting that throughout the whole film, the queen has barely any interaction with the world or its characters. That would have given the film some structure, and apparently that’s not what Mr. Jarman had intended. The film’s story, if it has one, is essentially 100 minutes of pure, empty anarchy. There’s no real thread that binds the scenes together, and that’s a terrible shame because it seems as if there could have been a good story. The film itself explores many themes, but its central theme is abject chaos, and I think that this could have been explored in a much better way than it had been. That said, one might be able to argue that the film itself is an accurate representation of the kind of chaos it intended to show.

Equally insane is the film’s cast of characters. When they’re not shouting curse-laden rants about whatever they feel like at the time, they’re having sex and murdering people for no real reason. The acting isn’t terribly bad. In fact, the actors play their parts well enough that they can convince you of the characters’ insanity. To a certain extent, I liked the way the characters were portrayed because they were raw personalities, but they were hampered by their aimlessness in the plot. Amyl Nitrate was perhaps my favourite character because I think she had the most potential, and despite having a decent performer playing her, even she suffers from the same problem.

There are some positives though. For one, the film captures the punk style quite accurately, even though it misrepresents the punk scene generally. On another note, the film doesn’t really represent punk at all, but rather should be taken as a metaphor for the pessimism of the time in which it was made. If the film accomplishes anything, it’s that it unfailingly depicts the logical conclusion of what a nihilistic outlook on life can possibly lead to, at least without any sort of intervention. Perhaps that’s about all the sense I can make out of a film like this. It’s not really bad at all, but despite some delightfully quirky moments, it makes so little sense that it may only appeal to the nerdiest film enthusiasts, or film studies students.

  • Score: 62%
  • Grade: C
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