How to Portray Emotional Torments & Success – A Movie Review of Paolo Sorrentino’s “YOUTH” by Gary S. Smolker

Paolo Sorrentino is the internationally renowned writer and director of Italy’s Oscar-winning foreign language film “The Great Beauty” which was about the meaninglessness of success.

I loved Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty”, but for my purposes I think “YOUTH” is better.

You will love the visuals when you see “YOUTH” —

  • Most of the film takes place in the Swiss Alps.
  • The costuming is fabulous.
  • Principally this is a story about a composer who “was” misunderstood by his daughter.

You will also love the subtly simple way Paolo Sorrentino illustrates what it takes to be a great success and what is involved in being successful.

The great architect Le Corbusier said: Simplicity is a choice, a discrimination, a crystallization.  Its object is purity.

“YOUTH” is purity incarnate.  It is a pure and true and honest and sincere movie about success.

The Cost of Being the Best

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest movie YOUTH is about the cost of getting to the apex of your profession, the cost you pay to become the best at what you do, the “human cost” of making it.

The Cost of Being Consumed

Paolo Sorrentino’s movie YOUTH is about being consumed.

Everyone in this movie is consumed by their own desires.

Musical composer and conductor Fred (played by Michael Caine) is consumed by his love for his mentally dead institutionalized wife.

Fred’s “loving” daughter Lena (played by Rachel Weisz) is consumed by feeling she is not loved and has not been loved by her father Fred.

Screen writer director Mick (played by Harvey Keitel) is consumed by desire to write/direct the greatest movie of his career.

Being Misunderstood

YOUTH makes it clear that the person who has made it to the top of a creative profession will be misunderstood by his children.

The new 2015 movie “Steve Jobs” and the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” also make it clear that a “driven” productive genius, passionate about his work, will be misunderstood.


The takeaway message of this movie is, You either live in the future or you live in the past.

Most Memorable Scene

The photography in this movie is beyond fabulous.

The costuming and make up in this film is beyond the highest order.

Most of this movie takes place in Switzerland, where a well dressed and fabulously made up Harvey Keitel — who looks elegantly casual although he looks like he is in his eighties — is trying to write a screenplay with a team of young screenwriters who look like they are in their twenties.

In the most memorable scene in this movie, Harvey Keitel asks a young woman screen writer on his “screen writing team” to look through a telescope at a huge mountain, which is far away.

After she looks through the telescope he then asks her what she sees.

She says, “It looks so close.”

Keitel then turns the telescope around and asks her to now look at the same mountain.

She looks at the same mountain again.

Keitel then asks her, “What do you see now.”

She replies, “It looks so far away.”

Keitel then tells her,

  1. “That is the difference between youth and old age.”
  2. “When you are young, things far away look close and large.”
  3. “When you are old, everything looks far away and small.”

Second Most Memorable Scene

It is worth watching this movie just to see the clothes Rachel Weisz and Michael Caine wear in each scene.

In the second most memorable scene, a tearful well dressed Rachel Weisz (the character Lena in this movie) berates her elegantly dressed father Michael Caine (music composer Fred in this movie)

  • (i) for not loving her,
  • (ii) for not loving her mother,
  • (iii) for never paying attention to either her (Rachel Weisz) or to her mother (Fred’s devoted wife),
  • (iv) for never showing any affection to either one of them,
  • (v) for knowing nothing about her (Rachel Weisz), and
  • (vi) for always being consumed by his (Fred’s musical) profession of composing music and conducting orchestras.

According to Rachel/Lena, her mother was always telling her (Rachel/Lena) to be quiet because her father Fred (Michael Caine) was composing music or preparing to conduct an orchestra or preparing for a meeting with an important composer or other personage in the highest level of the music world.

Third Most Memorable Scene

The Queen of England has sent an emissary to ask Fred to conduct an orchestra which will be playing one of his most famous compositions and a most famous singer who will be singing the words as the orchestra plays his music as a birthday present to her husband, and to ask Fred to accept a knighthood.

Fred replies: No.

The emissary asks: Why?

Fred replies: For personal reasons.

The emissary from the Queen keeps coming back.

After the outburst from his daughter accusing him of not carrying for his wife- on the next time the emissary asks Fred to conduct an orchestra playing that music, Fred replies:

  • I do not accept and will not accept the Queen’s invitation and I don’t want to be knighted because I composed that song and music for that song for my wife. 
  • I have only conducted an orchestra while that song was being played when my wife sang that song. 
  • My wife can’t sing anymore. 
  • I am never going to conduct an orchestra playing that song without my wife there to sing that song.

Fourth Most Memorable Scene

During her tearful tirade against her father, Lena also criticizes her father Fred for having not brought flowers to his wife’s grave site in Venice, for the past ten years.

In the fourth most memorable scene, Fred goes to a graveyard in Venice and walks to a particular grave with a bouquet of flowers.

Then walks away with a disappointed look on his face without putting down the bouquet of flowers.

We next see Fred in a hotel like private room in an institution with a nurse looking after a mentally dead woman.

Fred tells the mentally dead woman

  • That the Queen of England wants to give him (Fred) a knighthood for writing the song he wrote for her (his wife who is now demented).
  • That he remembers that when no-0ne had any faith in him, except her.
  • He remembers all the times he was turned down when he applied for a job.
  • He remembers that she (his wife) sold her mother’s jewellery to support the two of them.
  • Their daughter knows nothing of this.
  • It is best that they keep the set-backs and other disappointments and poverty they faced together their secret — a secret between himself and her (his wife).

Sorrentino Shines His Light on Us

In YOUTH, Sorrentino shows us that the path taken by an honest noble self-made man to the top is not an easy path and that true wealth (success) is to love and respect someone else and to have your true self be loved and respected by another person and to return that love and respect in return.

Fred was always his authentic self — a man passionately in love with music, composing music, making music and conducting.

He was very good at what he did and got better and better at it.

Fred’s wife married Fred when Fred was at the beginning of Fred’s musical career, struggling musically and economically.

Fred’s wife truly loved and respected Fred and made sacrifices when needed.

Fred has always truly loved and respected his wife and always truly loved and respected his daughter, and made appropriate sacrifices when needed.

Fred’s wife and Fred savored the good times and conquered the challenges together throughout their lives, without ever lapsing into negativity.

Sorrentino shows us life is beautiful, that judging others shows negativity, that we are all special in our own way and that there is always a lot going on in our lives.

Lena, the “youth” in this movie, because of her “youth” and inexperience, has only the slightest idea of who her authentic loving dedicated father is.

As the movie progresses, Lena learns more and more about how loving, compassionate and respectful an individual her father Fred is and always has been and what a serious committed relationship Fred has with her mother.

What It Takes to be Successful

When asked what it takes to be mega successful clothing designer Donna Karen reportedly answered: Do something you believe in.  Do something that speaks to your needs, your life style and your passion.” 

In “YOUTH” the story shows what happened in Sorrentino’s character Fred’s life.

Each of the characters in Sorrentino’s screenplay/movie “YOUTH” shows a different aspect of how being successful plays out, i.e. the price your family might pay for your effort to be successful.

During the movie Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are shown in the dinning room of the hotel they are staying at, watching a married couple eat dinner.  The married couple never talk to each other.  Caine and Keitel bet each night whether that couple will talk to each other during dinner.  Caine bets they won’t, Keitel bets they will.  Caine wins the bet every night.

I remember being in the dinning room at a romantic resort one morning.  I spotted a high profile successful man I know eating breakfast with his high profile successful wife.  They were both reading a newspaper.

I told my wife:  Look!  You can always tell who the married couples are at this resort: They are the ones in the dinning room reading newspapers instead of talking to each other at breakfast.

I spoke to a very successful man recently, who told me:

  • There is nothing more I want to accomplish in life, except to enjoy the fruits of my labors.
  • I was recently in a line with my wife, and noticed we had nothing to say to each other.
  • All the “young” couples in line were busily chatting with each other.
  • When we were first married everything was an exciting adventure we shared together. 
  • Now our marriage has entered a new phase: We go our own way; we are living separate lives together.

Basketball great Roger Barry, reportedly answered the “What does it take to be successful? question in greater detail, this way:

If  you don’t have great personable pride, you don’t have a chance, because you’re willing to accept less than your best effort.  And if you’re willing to accept less than your best effort, you’ll never maximize your full potential.

Study all the fundamental principles and concepts of whatever it is you are trying to do so you have a foundation to build on.

Find something you love to do and give your best effort in trying to master whatever it is required of you.

The movie released  Pawn Sacrifice (about master chess play Bobby Fischer), and the movie Steve Jobs (about the co-founder of Apple Computer)t released this year (2015) and the movies released last year (2014) Whiplash (about a fictional jazz ensemble drummer and a fictional jazz ensemble leader/conductor) and The Imitation Game (about Alan Turing the father of computer science) show how being super successful – at the top of a field of endeavor – plays out.

I would add to that mix:

  1. Having a brilliant teacher/coach to teach you, to monitor your performance, to give you feed-back, and to push you is essential UNLESS you are a complete GENIUS like Steve Jobs, Alan Turing and Bobby Fischer.
  2. Having brilliant advisers is one of the secrets of success for merely talented people like Frank Sinatra.

Each of the characters in “YOUTH” represents one aspect of the cost of great success.


Restlessness is the hallmark of fabulously successful people and the hallmark of the principal characters in Sorrentino’s “YOUTH.”


No life ever grows great until it is focused. – Henry Emerson Fosdick, theologian

“YOUTH” is about what it is like to live a focused life.

At the end of the movie, Harvey Keitel’s character tells his team of young screenwriters: In life we are all extras.


Thoughts for the day:

  • Use what talents you possess; the woods would be silent if no birds sang there but those who sing best. – Henry Van Dyke, poet
  • Creativity takes courage. – Henri Matisse, artist
  • To not dare is to have already lost. – Andree Putman, designer
  • Forget about style, worry about results.” – Bobby Orr, hockey great
  • It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said.  Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement. – Jackson Pollack, painter
  • Success is the old ABC – ability, breaks and courage. – Charles Luckman, architect


A designer knows when he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing more left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, aviator and author

“YOUTH” is a masterpiece.

Not only does the writer/director of YOUTH, Paolo Sorrentino, have great ideas, he has the ability to express them.

Copyright © 2015 by Gary S. Smolker, All Rights Reserved



About Gary S. Smolker

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: No enterprise can exist for itself alone. Every successful enterprise ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others. Otherwise, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. Imagination, open mindedness and flexibility are the most important factors in unlocking potential. Those who embrace innovation, improvisation, continuous learning, time management, are action oriented, high energy, passionate, creative, purposeful and intense individuals are best equipped to succeed. We all have ideas and the ability to make progress by sharing information and our ideas and also by changing our ideas when appropriate. We should always be on the lookout for teaching and mentoring moments. We hold time like water in our hands; however tightly we clench our fingers, it drips away. But, if it falls on a seed, a seed may grow to become something that will have a positive social impact. PERSONAL INTERESTS: I have a passion to learn, to innovate, to lead, to mentor and to teach. I seek to write things worth reading and want to do things worth writing about. I enjoy (a) driving a fast car, (b) having intense conversations (c) teaching/mentoring, (d) reading and (e) being involved in productive activity. PERSONAL: I believe in cultivating and backing passionate people, innovation, and old fashioned good ideas. I love making human connections and spreading good ideas. I am strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence of thought and action are called for. PERSONAL GOALS: I want to live life vibrantly, to be as sharp as a tack until my last breath and to change the world by being me. My personal goal is to be fully engaged in life, to lead by example, to set high standards and to continue to amass firsthand experience and knowledge in all that interests me. PERSONALITY: I love fun and mischief. I relish absurdity. I have an irreverent, facetious and satiric disposition. I dread boredom. I have spent a lifetime reading. I have no bias against people who have lived successful and/or complicated lives. I write to release tension, to get things off my chest. SOCIAL MEDIA: I post articles on the "Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange" blog at, and "Dude's Guide to Women's Shoes" at I also post images and comments on Instagram @garyspassion. CONTACT INFORMATION: Gary Smolker, Smolker Law Firm, 16055 Ventura Blvd., Ste 525, Encino, California, 91436-2609, USA. Phone 1-818-788-7290, e-mail

Posted on December 13, 2015, in Authenticity, Personal Pride, Restlessness, Success, The Cost of Achieving Success, The Importance of Being the Real You and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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