The Effects of Personal Experience on Art in ‘The Souvenir’

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– By Sam Hendrian –

When an artist creates art, it is undoubtable that she shares a little bit of her soul with the world. But which aspects of her soul does she predominantly share? Personal experience? Lofty ideals? This question is hauntingly and thought-provokingly explored in the 2019 Sundance film The Souvenir, which will be available for rent/purchase on July 30. I saw the film at Arclight Cinemas back in May and am still pondering its compelling themes.

When we first meet the film’s protagonist, an optimistic film student named Julie, she seems to have all the poise and vision an artist could ever want. Her immediate aspiration is to make a movie about a fictional mother-son story that has been passionately bubbling in her head. This story would have poignance and relevance, even though it has nothing to do with anything she herself has experienced in life. Her professors encourage her to focus less on creating something “relevant” and more on creating something personal, but she is initially stubborn in her ideals.

Julie soon meets a subtly mysterious man named Anthony, who gradually seduces her with his charming yet quietly forceful personality. He is eventually revealed to be a heroin addict, and their relationship is clearly toxic, although it takes Julie a while to accept this. Her filmmaking almost subconsciously becomes melancholic, and by the end of the movie, she realizes that the “relevant” story she came to film school wanting to tell is no longer at the forefront of her imagination. Rather, her art organically becomes deeply personal and likely will be for the rest of her career.

As a young film student myself, I can somewhat relate to Julie’s emotional journey as an artist and as a person. Three years ago, I was a wet-behind-the ears freshman who came to school with two folders full of movie ideas that had little to do with anything I had actually experienced. Like Julie, I was passionate about these ideas because they seemed original and relevant, two qualities I believed many Hollywood movies were lacking.

After piling on a few more years of life experience and blushingly realizing my vast naiveté, I became less concerned with telling relevant stories and more with telling personal ones. The only short film I made that my fellow students seem to remember is an earnest plea for more sincerity in human conversations, and the screenplay I am currently developing is basically a love letter to all my friends who have struggled with depression over the years. I may never have tasted a toxic relationship like Julie, but I have at least begun to battle the turmoil and confusion that adulthood frequently brings, and this battle will undoubtedly find its way into whatever I create from this point forward.

The Souvenir does not preach against making movies that are relevant and original. It simply states that if we are fully in-tune with our own souls and create art that is honest, relevance and originality will come naturally. I would highly recommend this sometimes slow but compelling film to anyone who has ever struggled with the burning desire to make art that matters.


About the Author

Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing an emphasis in Directing.

For more articles by Sam, click here.

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