The film is absolutely touching and moving. We all know Benjamin Britten as a musician and since it is not polite to speak of certain matters in front of people, it was more or less held secret or hushed up that he and Peter Pears were life-long lovers starting in 1939. This marvelous production brings out the secret life of Benjamin Britten without shattering the beauty of his inspiration. The fact that he was moved in his creative work by love and the love of one person only, makes his work even brighter.
It is this dimension of insecurity in life that is at work in his music all the time and this insecurity is constantly balanced by some power, strength, force that comes from within the music and that comes from the heart of one loved man. Britten's first opera, Peter Grimes, was the launching pad of Peter Pears and Britten last opera, Death in Venice, was entirely composed for Peter Pears as an old man trying to reflect on what was old age for Benjamin Britten. Two things were happening to him at the same time.
First he was sick, was operated upon and that was not brilliant, and then he was dying, for one thing. He composed with that death by composing an opera for his life-long lover. Death in Venice expresses the second experience Benjamin Britten was going through in his last years. He rediscovered the beauty of youth and he fell in love with that beauty, the beauty of the young Venetian boy that the old dying main character is watching and observing in his youth and in his youthful insouciance. That's probably the most important and most powerful experience an old man can live through. Suddenly his life changes.
It becomes full of light, full of the light of that youth he is looking at. The worst side of the story is that the world will only see some kind of perverse desire from some kind of an impotent man for a young boy in which he finds some compensation for his impotence. And yet for the old man it is not sexual, and cannot even be, due to his impotence mind you, ah ah says the devil. This bright youth, this youthful life is something completely different for that old man. It is the vessel in which he would like to donate all he knows, all he has, all he is able to do, so that the young man would be the continuator, the tree that would spring out of him after his death.
That love is a legacy of a creative power that death is going to take away. Those who analyze this "vessel", and this "donation" as a sexual act or desire are the perverts who cannot take sex out of their minds. It is the survival instinct of the human species carried in any man and woman that speaks here and tells the man: "Give it all to this young man who will continue your way to a destination that you do not even know for yourself. Give him the power of your heritage and let him enjoy it and fertilize it and make it fructify." You may tell me I am fantasizing.
I can hear you from here. I read the novella "Death in Venice" when I was 17 and I remember how I identified with the young man and suddenly longed for someone to give me all he knew and all he had for me to develop, enrich and multiply it like Jesus the bread and the fish. I longed for that older man who could invest his own knowledge and art and science in me, and I would continue his route to some rising sun somewhere. There is no sexual desire in the young man who is thus suddenly in love with a man of science and knowledge. It is love and love has no reason to answer any question.? It is just a beautiful feeling, an emotion, a passion of the mind, the heart and the soul. Where is sex in all that? In the eyes of the "probably jealous" beholder.
The film here ends up with some private letters of both Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears just a few months or weeks before Benjamin Britten's death, in which the two men summarize their love of 35 years or so in just three words: "I love you". These three words are the most beautiful words an old man can say to anyone, and particularly a younger person and that that younger person can say to that old man, because love is beyond the body, beyond age, beyond physical ability or disability, because love is the only thing that can survive death and take you to death without too many tears but certainly without any regret because you know the younger one will look after what you leave behind.
It is that strong emotion you feel when the film closes and you wonder how it is possible that such feelings can survive the death of those who carry them. Some will tell you it is the mystery of God. I would favor the mystery of the soul and the mind.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU