The Only Living Boy In New York
The Only Living Boy In New York is a silly movie with serious aches and pains. The film finds its bathos from Simon and Garfunkel’s song of the same title. Simon wrote it when the duo was breaking up. The song’s anguish, sadness, disappointment, bewilderment, and finally, acceptance are the undercurrents that ripple through the movie. Thomas (Callum Turner), an upstart writer, is the neglected son of a failed writer who has emerged into a successful publisher. His father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), suffering a failed marriage, is having an affair with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). With all her entitlements, she seems incessantly sad and wanting. Thomas’ mother, Judith (Cynthia Nixon) is desolate in her own world. WF (Jeff Bridges), Thomas’s tenement neighbor, is a washed-up, alcoholic writer. In time, he sits in as Thomas’s surrogate father (There is a ludicrous twist in this relationship I will not spoil). And Thomas’s friend is Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) who wants nothing more or nothing less than be his soul mate.
They live in New York City – a culturally enriching and morally impoverishing place. At his parent’ dinner party, Thomas whines contempt for his father’s financial success. In that dangling conversation, he blurts out, “New York has lost its soul!” That utterance may lack cogitation, but it is perceptive beyond Thomas’ maturity. The city has lost its soul because those at dinner and the other cultural elites have lost their souls. One can offer that the film is really a smirky commentary on New York’s soulful impoverishment.
While spending a pleasure Autumn day with Mimi, (in all his apoplectic angst against his family’s wealth, it is kind of nice that the only living boy in New York has the resources to enjoy the city), Thomas by chance spots his father with a young woman. Their intimacy can only lead to an obvious conclusion. His unformed curiosity feeds his voyeurism. Thomas follows Johanna everywhere, all the while chasing his clashing feelings for her.
In a morally complicit world, even good intentions are tainted with bad ones. Thomas wants to protect his mother from his father’s affair and ends up sharing Johanna’s bed. Or maybe in a besotted way he longs for his father’s validation. Ethan’s disappointment avoids his son, but can it be his avoidance of his own truer self. His infidelity is his way of coping with his other failures. Like a good father, WF listens to Thomas. He is his life coach, literary mentor and drinking buddy, all the while stealing from Thomas’ soul to furbish his next novel. Johanna claims to love Ethan and yet lies down with his son. Judith wants to be a loving mother, but wallowing in self-pity, her depleted emotions can barely enfold her son. Mimi loves Thomas, but just not that way, until she loses him to another woman just that way.
In West Side Story, the gang leader, Riff, quips, “Hey, I’m depraved on account that I’m deprived.” Like Riff, these New Yorkers’ existential deprivation may explain much of their subconscious depravity. Thomas blames another for his own turpitude. To Johanna, he demurs, “God made a mistake when he made you beautiful.” And Mimi blames Thomas for her disillusionment. Referring to his duplicity, she chides, “They won! You’re just like them.” In a moment of vulnerability, WF weeps inconsolably for his trespasses against Thomas. Meanwhile his book is published. At the end, when Thomas wimps in contrition, Johanna confesses, “we’re all sorry!” What else can they say living in a city that has lost its soul.