The City of Your Final Destination
October 11, 2010
Pensively exploring themes of fatalism and destiny and how they inform the construction of public and private memory, The City of Your Final Destination (2009) is a peculiar little gem of a film. With carefully constructed characters, each of whom elucidate a psychoanalytic reading of the film for their symbolic standing in the first instance, and with incredibly beautiful art direction which similes thematic function at every corner, The City of Your Final Destination straddles a fascinating line between the harsh and awkward reality of “the Real” and the enchantment of fantasy as it reflects upon how one individual’s personal historicity affects others.
Omar stands at the precipice of his academic career; the funding for his fellowship to write a biography of late Latin American writer Jules Gund pending as he awaits authorisation from Gund’s estate. When Gund’s family deny him authorisation, Omar is at a loss for what to do. Luckily, his fantastically tactless and uber pragmatic German girlfriend Deirdre is at hand to quite literally push him towards realising his dream; encouraging him to visit the Gund estate in Uruguay and plead his case to Jules Gund’s three executors. Once there, Omar discovers a great deal more than just the material for his thesis.
Protagonist Omar is a relational character, by which I mean that the particularities he is afforded operate in direct relation to other characters in the film. Most notable is his relationship with girlfriend Deirdre. The two function as a fascinating representation of a psychoanalytic rupture between fantasy and reality. Where Omar is fatalistic and romanticises life, Deirdre is the cold harsh voice of reality, constantly trying to return him to the established Order of things, always questioning his interpretation of events. This is illustrated early on when Omar loses a shoe to a gurgling mass of what he perceives to be quicksand, Deirdre promptly corrects him: “For you it’s quicksand, and for everyone else it’s a puddle. It’s like you have a subconscious desire to fail.” Following a sharp exchange that makes it increasingly clear the two cannot co-exist, Omar declares, “I have to be more independent. Like other people.” Even in his efforts to break free from the o’erbearing presence of the Real (Deirdre), Omar cannot function within the established Order and from here his journey becomes a symbolic re-entry into the world as a child.
Arriving in Uruguay and unable to communicate properly due to language barrier (language in Lacanian psychoanalysis being the way in which the child enters into the Symbolic Order), Omar must take the school bus with the local children to reach his proverbial final destination. The school bus, a vessel which transports subjects to their educational location, indicates the innocence and naiveté Omar is accompanied by on his journey in pursuit of academic knowledge. Moreover, his being surrounded by children – one of whom is notably related to Jules Gund: his granddaughter – indicates the elusive concept of the “future”; certain only insofar as it is inextricably linked to both the past and the present.
Upon reaching the Gund estate, Omar meets the gatekeepers to the historiography of Jules Gund: brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins), widow Caroline (Laura Linney) and mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The three represent Jules’ psyche; Arden, who is happy to grant Omar authorisation for the biography operates as Jules’ Id (the instictual drive); Caroline who sternly opposes it operates as the Super-ego (the conscience and moral voice) and Adam, who is willing to grant authorisation at a tradable price, operates as the ever-mediating Ego (a conscious effort at integrating the instincts of the Id with the prohibitive motivations of the Super-ego). Omar, our symbolic stand-in for fantasy, hopes to convince the three components of Jules’ psyche (physically manifested by their inhabiting of his beautiful overgrown and idyllic estate) that he will treat the subject matter with respect and sensitivity, but his efforts, at least at first, are futile.
When an accident places Omar in a coma, girlfriend Deirdre (and representative of the Real) journeys out to the estate for the sake of both Omar and his academic pursuit. Clashing violently with every aspect of Jules Gund’s psyche – unable to understand as Omar does the dialectical relationship between historical “truth” and historical “myth” – Deirdre is rendered impotent as Omar favours a blossoming romance with the key to Jules’ personal historicity, that is, the beautiful physical incarnation of his Id: Arden.
After separating himself from the Real (Deirdre) and choosing a life driven by fatalism and instinct (Arden), Omar replaces his previous persuit of what was presented as a dry, academic biography with a more intimate and personal account of Jules’ historicity; learning as much about the life and relationships Jules led as he already knows of the man’s literary output. Finally, the Super-ego (Caroline) leaves the psyche (the estate) which, in this Freudian paradigm, ends the neuroses and leaves a sound and peaceful subconscious (the film’s final resolution) in its wake.
With more poignant references and inferences than this review has the space to explore, The City of Your Final Destination is a rich tapestry of cultural studies and critical theory represented in engaging and affecting visuals. Its only let-down being some occasionally clunky dialogue (although I dare say this is most likely a deliberate and even Brechtian technique for reminding the viewer of the synthetic nature of the film); The City of Your Final Destination is an absolute sensory pleasure and a true cerebral treat.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.