‘Martin Eden’ Summary & Analysis – A Facile Quest


Imagine a deep and dark creak. A sort of gorge without any light coming out of it. You don’t know its depth. You don’t know what resides in it until a nightmare starts crawling out of it. People do want to sympathize with you as you have to face the nightmare all by yourself. People want you to survive out of genuine concern. But you have tread too far following the doctrine of social Darwinism. Maybe you took a wrong turn, maybe it all became a paradox in the end. A loathsome paradox. Nobody gets affected by your losses because somewhere you too don’t seem to regret it. The tragedy itself becomes oxymoronic because it simply fails to be quantified as being evasive. But wait, don’t be too quick to judge! Martin Eden is that dark creek I am talking about.

Directed by Pietro Marcello, Martin Eden is based on the novel written by Jack London, which was published in 1909. The writing is loosely autobiographical, as Jack London wrote it inspired by his life and his convoluted ideologies that at first glance you might set aside as being balderdash. But the more you sit on it, you realize that in a way it is the closest you will ever get to justify your existence and reality. Or maybe you would see it as a reckless and wasteful use of the limited time we have, to an extent where you feel that misfortune was just a repercussion of the actions, for which the protagonist was solely responsible.

An individual is entitled to have his or her opinion, especially when talking about such bizarre, self-destructive, and convoluted ideologies that not even ooze out a drop of optimism. But you just won’t be able to discard the writing or the philosophies as being bovine or obtuse, without having a debate on it.

‘Martin Eden’ Summary

Martin Eden is about a proletariat, who cannot even read properly, gets fascinated by the power to express oneself, and decides to become a writer. The proletariat is unaware of the fact that to express, one doesn’t only need words but understanding the functioning of a very irrational world is the key. This aspiring writer is Martin Eden. He is a sailor and earns his living by working for his employer, the owner of the ship, on a contract basis. He lives with his sister and brother in law and belongs to a working-class, who struggle for their existence. He meets the Orsini family, as he saves their son, Arturo from getting beaten by a guard. The Orsini’s belong to the creamy layer of the society. They are the elites, the wealth holders, the influential people of the society, who reside in a place no less than Eden. Martin gets infatuated by the dainty demeanor of their daughter, Elena Orsini. Elena stresses the importance of education to be successful and to hold a respectable position in society. They talk about Baudelaire and get influenced by the notion of romanticism in French literature. Martin has conjectures about himself, his aspirations, his place in society, his goals, and the basic theory of evolution too. He reads Herbert Spencer after which he doesn’t align with any of the social, political, or economic movements happening in not only Naples but the whole of Italy. Everything that was so simple was now becoming contradictory in nature.

The only spruced up and potent emotion he felt was when his story gets published in the magazine after a lot of them got rejected. Martin does become what he set out for. But in the process loses everything. Actually, it won’t be true if I say that he lost everything. It would be more apt to say that he let go the most valuable relations on purpose and in a heartbeat as if they never meant anything. And that’s why he becomes a subject of contempt not for the people closely related to him but to the viewer who tries to find some prudence behind his actions.

The Snake that Eats its Own Tail

The Egyptians believed that an “Ouroboros” symbolizes eternity. But a more befitting explanation would be that it signifies a loop which in itself is a paradox. An explanation of the very complicated “Why” in Martin’s life could be found in the significance of “Ouroboros.

Martin reaches a point in time in his life where he says “Life disgusts me. I have lived everything so intensely that I don’t desire anything now.”

Martin is intensely dissatisfied with the life he has created for himself. When the socialist’s flags were flying high in Italy, he did not adhere to the principles of socialism. He believed that they were trying to escape the inevitable. He believes that both roads lead to the same end. He feels strongly that the perception of people is nothing but fickle. He didn’t believe in the word community. Martin felt that in due time even these communities and organizations would make somebody the leader who holds the physical supremacy as stated by Herbert Spencer.  The individuals would always act through a medium. And so the outcome would be a result of the conscience of cumulative class strata. It won’t be affected if the dissenters or a dissent if they didn’t account to a majority.

He saw his love Elena, lost faith in him just because the magazine was not publishing him. The publishers thought that he was a socialist and henceforth didn’t want to support a writer of such ideologies. As soon as he got published and made materialistic strides, he saw the people around him change. He didn’t want to be a part of such pretentiousness. People did what suited them and maybe that was the reason why they were supporters or protestors of a certain economic and social movement. His political musings, class struggle, death of his mentor Russ Brissenden and everything else accumulated to a loss of desire to carry on with this ordeal, with this struggle in which there seemed no point at all.

His mere existence became a proof of how much somebody can loathe and detest reality.

The Sinking Ship

Tired of the hypocrisy and pretentiousness of society we always knew that the ship was going to sink. Martin says that he always wrote using the same words and ideas but it was only after it suited the ones in power that his work was appreciated. Meritocracy was a privilege enjoyed only by the elites.

The use of a 16mm lens and the intricate color grading, combined with picturesque Italy, builds a very compelling mise on sen. The writing too grabs your attention with some poetic dialogs until it loses hold when the second part of the narrative commences. The transformation of a likable and highbrow person into an abhorrent character is not convincing and as a result, one fails to get involved in the myriad emotions that the character is going through. The footage of a sinking ship was a constant reminder of where the story is going to lead, and it was in the end just a matter of time.

Martin Eden is a film in which the protagonist doesn’t want to be a part of this facile quest at all. All he wants is the freedom of his individualistic actions from social control. He is an idealist who wants to live life on his own terms. He is a dreamer who closed his eyes so that the world couldn’t see him.

Martin Eden is running in Theaters.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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