Three years after On The Road was finally published, Jack Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr) began to feel suffocated by fame and escaped to his friend’s cabin in Big Sur, California. While there, Kerouac made some realisations about himself, and his life.
It seems like there has been a wealth of Kerouac films released in the last few years; On The Road examined Kerouac’s most famous work and reminded audiences of the impact of the Beat Generation of writers and artists, and last year’s Kill Your Darlings shone the spotlight on Kerouac as a young man. The Kerouac represented in Big Sur is an older, seemingly wiser, more tired man, a man – it seems – who has become aware of his own myth.
Jean-Marc Barr plays Kerouac with a world weariness that is rather engaging; his growly narration of the film – much of it lifted from Kerouac’s book of the same name – gives the audience more of an insight into the character, and reminds us of the rhythm of Kerouac’s language, both spoken and written. Barr does not try to make Kerouac a sympathetic character – although sympathies do occur – instead he shows the man who inspired thousands – probably millions – of kids to travel across the world as a vain, narcissistic, self involved creature.
The rest of the cast is made up of Josh Lucas, Kate Bosworth, Stana Katic, and Balthazar Getty, but each of these, while they do what they can with what they are given, are imply Kerouac’s supporting characters – in both his mind and ours – and they quickly fade into the background.
Perhaps it is due to over saturation, or perhaps Big Sur is a difficult book to adapt for the big screen, but it often feels like what we see on screen is an accompanying video to a man’s idle and destructive thoughts. The cinematography is beautiful and captures the landscape at its best, but there is a feeling of a music video or a fashion ad about the whole affair, as it is often hard to connect emotionally with what is happening on screen. We may get a deeper understanding of Kerouac’s motivations, desires and his works, but it often feels as though something is lacking.
In all, Big Sur is a beautifully filmed piece of work that shows just how narcissistic and misogynistic Kerouac could be. The narration is wonderfully done and adds depth to the central character, but not of the others are developed in any way, leaving Big Sur feeling like the audience is looking over someone’s shoulder, reading their diary.