Last week, I went to California for Comic-Con. One of the events I went to see was Pattinson playing the role of a vampire in the indie flick, ‘Bel Ami’. The movie’s co-star, FKA twigs, had a little party for the fans who travelled from all over the world to see it. The following day, I headed to the other side of the country to see a different kind of ‘Twilight’ – Robert Pattinson’s actual beach. Let’s take a look at the reality behind the scenes of ‘Bel Ami’ and ‘Twilight’s’ most famous ex-smoker.
Pattinson plays the role of a vampire in ‘Bel Ami’, which debuted at Comic-Con 2016. It’s not your typical vampire flick, though. In ‘Bel Ami’, Pattinson plays Aleksandr Petroff, a well-bred young man who inherits a significant fortune after the death of his father. He chooses to use his wealth for good and sets up a foundation to sponsor promising artists. For the most part, ‘Bel Ami’ is a character study of a man’s quest for meaning. What will it mean to be a good man? We see the film’s protagonist, who is a student of Nietzsche, question the ideas society has drilled into his head. This question is at the heart of every ‘bel ami’ – will you be a good man, Mr. Petroff?
The plot of ‘Bel Ami’ is based on a true story. It is the tale of the literary decadence in early 20th century Paris. The French capital in the 1900s was a mecca for writers, artists, and other bohemians. It was also a city steeped in literary tradition, and the death of Aleksandr’s father at the hands of a heartless banker is enough reason for his journey west. It starts off simply enough. Aleksandr decides to study at the American University of Paris, but once there, he falls in with a bad crowd and finds himself immersed in a world of sex and drugs. This of course, does not escape the notice of his tutors at the university, who inform his fiancée, Madeleine (played by Audrey Tautou) that he has fallen behind in his studies. He returns to Paris to save his academic career, but it is already too late. He has fallen into a decadent lifestyle that he cannot seem to stop himself from craving more and more. It is at this point, when his true nature is revealed, and he decides that he wants to start over again, in a new city, with a new identity. He takes the name of Bel Ami and embarks on a journey to reinvent himself as a good man, a changed man, committed to doing good with his newly acquired wealth. It is a journey that takes him back to the source of his inspiration – the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’
Aleksandr’s first stop on the road to moral reformation is the library. It is here that he encounters the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. The latter half of the 20th century would see Nietzsche’s writings redefined and interpreted in many different ways. Some see him as a nihilist, an affirmer of the meaninglessness of life, while others understand his work as an expression of humanism. The character of Aleksandr Petroff is a culmination of the latter – he is the modern man, embodying Nietzsche’s belief that strong men can change themselves and the world for the better. This is most graphically depicted in the scene where Aleksandr discovers the English translation of Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, by Richard Wagner. It is at this point that the identity crisis he has been carrying for the past two years comes to a head. The novel opens with the line “Thus spoke Zarathustra: you should not be a man of today,” which he quotes to himself in French, at the start of his adventure.
We cannot say for sure whether or not Aleksandr will succeed in his mission to be a better man. There is certainly something to be said for the ‘bel ami’ of Nietzsche’s imagination. He is a man who has taken a hard look at himself and seen the potential for good in himself. He has thrown off the shackles society has placed upon him and become a better person, a man who can walk the Earth as a shining example to others. Will you be a good man, Mr. Petroff?