Updated: Feb 19, 2021
As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the movie, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers below.
Lust for Life (1956) was written by Norman Corwin and is based on Irving Stone's book of the same title. The film is directed by Vincente Minnelli and George Cukor; starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh. As you can probably guess, the movie is about the life of what many would say was one of the greatest artists in history—Vincent van Gogh. I found this movie listed in the book Movies and the Meaning of Life: The Most Profound Films in Cinematic History by Wayne Omura. Although the movie is well-done, well-acted, and at times has philosophical moments, its correlation with the meaning of life would be on the lower end of our scale.
With that said, there is one notable way the film does deal with the meaning of life. Some authors, e.g., Paul Thagard, Susan Wolf (to a certain extent), etc. include work or projects in their theories on the meaning of life. Or rather, work is an integral part of meaning. Interestingly in the film, van Gogh initially finds his purpose through painting, through his work; this passion lights his soul on fire; so much so, that he becomes mentally unstable and would reason that he has found nothing anywhere. Teetering between extreme highs and extreme lows, at one point he states the following on painting things such as workers, people's lives, etc.: These are subjects so difficult, and at the same time so beautiful, that it's worth spending one's whole life trying to capture the poetry that's hidden in them.
The film foreshadows the end through a quote by the philosopher Michelet: Blessed is the man who's found his worth, and one woman to love... and later in reflection to himself: Love is something so strong, so real, that it's as impossible to quench it as it is for a man to take his own life. Although van Gogh has found purpose and even meaning in his work, his life is not complete without love. He had a few romances, but none of them lasted, mostly due to the fact that during his life, towards the end, only one of his paintings sold. Thus, he was always living on borrowed money which his brother provided to him.
Although there are many romantic stories of extraordinary individuals devoting their entire life, their last breath, and their soul to their work; it is a hard path. Myriad experts view van Gogh as a brilliant painter who was ahead of his time. As such, even though he lived a meaningful and purposeful life, because his work wasn't accepted during his lifetime, he couldn't see it. To him, his life became meaningless and without purpose. Consequently, he commits suicide. One wonders, how many other people have done the same? Van Gogh would lament to his friend Paul towards the end: when you look back, so much of life is wasted on loneliness. There's not one of us that doesn't need friends, companionship, attachments.
In any case, despite the film being mentioned in a book as relating to the meaning of life, the correlation is relatively low as shown in the ratings at the end of this review. At least in that, almost any movie at random could in some sense be related to the meaning of life, as the act of watching, directing, and reviewing is an act of living life.
We rate the movie as follows:
Overall - 7
Meaning of Life Relevance - 3
Uniqueness – 2
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