Before watching the movie:
I think I remember seeing this in a collection of tapes held at a sports memorabilia store. I don’t remember why they were there, but since they were in the open, they were probably for sale or rent rather than for the workers’ entertainment during slow hours. I think it was right next to (or very near to) a Bride of Frankenstein remake, so that influenced my understanding of the plot. Anyway, it looked like an interesting movie I was too young for at the time, and that and other reasons meant that I left it.
I feel I really ought to have seen Peter O’Toole before, but I can’t recall anything, so I don’t really have a feel for him besides his reputation as a Great, which doesn’t tell me much specifically.
After watching the movie:
Boris Lafkin is “stolen” on his first day as a graduate student. Instead of becoming Dr. Kullenbeck’s assistant, Dr. Harry Wolper talks him into joining him instead, bribing him with the promise of a phone number for the pretty girl Boris followed in that morning. Harry mentors Boris in “the Big Picture” while Boris assists him in his secret project in the shed behind his house: cloning his 25 years-dead wife. While Kullenbeck tries to find a reason to get Harry kicked upstairs to the school’s unfunded “advanced research facility”, Boris learns to love as deeply as Harry loves his Lucy, and Meli, the egg donor, wishes Harry would love her. Or at least marry her.
While Peter O’Toole is certainly the biggest name, and I wanted more of Harry’s story, I felt the promotional material grossly mislead me as to whom the movie was about. Boris (odd that an Italian-ish looking character would have such a Russian name)’s love story, which is deep and evocative but slides into predictable and melodramatic, drives most of the plot. He may do it mirroring Harry’s story, but Harry’s story was only told, not shown (apparently there are deleted flashbacks that would have fixed this).
O’Toole is marvelous to watch. “Wry” is usually not a word that goes with “eccentric”, but O’Toole shows us a wry, eccentric sage who is so consumed with his own philosophy and “negotiating with God” that for all his wisdom, he fails to realize a scientific concept his graduate student has to point out to him. Namely, that cloning his wife 25 years after her death could only at best turn out like Womb, which is to say, all kinds of wrong.
The credits mention that this is based on a book of the same name, by the same writer. However, I have learned that the book that inspired this movie was unfilmable (a central question whether Harry is writing Boris or Boris is hallucinating Harry), much more disturbing, and even more emotionally powerful. It sounds dangerous to me, like Flowers for Algernon or The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which was so emotional I refuse to see the film adaptation and give the story the advantage of emoting actors and emotive score). They’re so different that some who have experienced both consider them entirely different stories that both muse on life, love, and faith, and fans of one should not seek out the other.
The movie itself is deep enough. Deeper than I expected. Every so often, a film catches me off-guard. Surprises me by being deeper and less classifiable than it seemed. My initial misconception helped along by the goofy 80s cover art, Creator joins films like L.A. Story and The Purple Rose of Cairo in this group, which reminds me why I do this. Without Yesterday’s Movies, I may never have seen any of these transcendent films, and never known their wit and artistry.