- 04 May 18
Traditional biopic fails to illuminate Marx's radical theories.
A montage during The Young Karl Marx shows footage from social revolutions throughout history, from the civil rights movement in America to the rallies of Fidel Castro, all while Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ plays in the background. The song and scenes are a perfect pairing, capturing the fierce spirit of each individual struggle while highlighting the inequalities and oppressions that continue to plague society. It’s evocative, clever and thought-provoking – and thus such a shame that this highlight only comes during the end credits.
Director Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) fails to bring this sense of vitality, prescience and passion to the rest of The Young Karl Marx, which essentially plays out as a staid bromance. Following a classic biopic structure, Peck charts how Marx (August Diehl) transformed himself from a struggling writer in the 1840s to the iconic philosopher and economist who created The Communist Manifesto. The friendship between Marx and the wealthy-but-rebellious Friedrich Engles (Stefan Konarske) inspired the two men to create a network of thinkers and writers who united against capitalism, eventually leading to their now infamous 1848 pamphlet.
There is a deep admiration for the obsessive, dedicated and inarguably brilliant minds of these men, but Peck struggles to make their thought process dynamic, falling back on repetitive scenes of midnight scribblings. The two leads both have a surprising charm that lifts the occasional slog of their exchanges, and the characterisation of them as intellectual rock stars somewhat conveys the radical nature of their ideas. But outside of drunken debating, the lead characters are rarely humanised beyond their intellect. Underdeveloped scenes with their respective wives expose the gender-blind focus of their theories of inequality and exploitation, although it’s an element that remains unexplored.