200 years into the future, society has fractioned off into tiny groups with a mysterious wall appearing out of nowhere segregating the population even further from their own world. Paul is a man living within these walls that appear to be closing in around him. However, Paul's focus isn't on the collapsing society but his own personal world as he looks to the past to help solve his present problems with his mother, Helen. A beautiful woman who is drinking an unknown black liquid that's keeping her youthful but is also causing her mind to slip and scars to form all over her body.
John R. Hand violated the visual cortex of audiences back in 2006 -- or 2007 when the DVD was released -- with the release of his movie "Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare" (don't jump all over my ass about punctuation because that's how the movie's title is spelled). A mind-bending experimental movie that was as confusing as it was strange. Yet somehow still fascinating. John R. Hand returned in 2008 with "Scars of Youth" -- an Oedipus complex themed post-apocalyptic film inspired by dystopian Russian science-fiction films and a movie that Freud himself probably would have screened at lectures.
200 years in the future, society is gone and what remains are small pockets of people who are kept fenced in by mysterious men in white hazmat suits. Nobody's sure how or when the barrier went up that separates what few people there are from the rest of the world. Paul is one of these corralled survivors, and while he tries to make sense of the reality that he finds himself in, he spends more time focusing on the crumbling relationship with his mother. A woman who's become addicted to a mysterious black liquid substance that helps her maintain her youth but leaving her in a hallucinogenic state and forming visible scars.
"Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare" was something I had thought about reviewing back in the early days of Film Bizarro but never did because…well, it's a rather disorienting watch that I'm still not quite sure what I think about today. A visually interesting film with '70s psychedelic aesthetics mixed from sources of film and video stock and, unfortunately, not much else. For me, anyway.
However, "Scars of Youth" seems to be much more controlled and deliberate in its delivery where as "Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare" was much more open. Taking queues from Russian science-fiction filmmakers, such as Tarkovsky, "Scars of Youth", is as visually engaging as its predecessor, but this time around the movie has a focal point. There is a stronger narrative structure to "Scars of Youth" along with an exploration of several different themes, most of which are intententionally left vague. Leaving a majority of the movie and the themes to be interpreted by each viewer -- and also for the viewer to fill in the gaps with their interpretations -- but it's because Hand's focus is take a viewer on a more visual journey rather than a expository one.
You'll certainly be left with more questions than answers and I could sit here and pretend to know everything that Hand intended to explore with "Scars of Youth" but, admittedly, I am unsure myself. One of the general themes seems to be a rejection of time -- changes, growing old, memories, death, etc. The central character, Paul, spends a most of the movie reflecting on his past and trying to recall on happier moments while everything around him is decaying and dying. That is unless you drink a mysterious black liquid that will allow a person to live forever (with the side effects of being covered in scars). Paul's mother, Helen, is one of these people who is drinking this liquid and becoming addicted. With each bottle she drinks Paul sees the woman who raised him slipping away; only leaving a delusional but youthful representation of something that is no longer part of Paul's life. As a result, creating overwhelming feelings of sorrow and anger as his past and his present cause the relationship between a mother and son in a dying world to boil over.
At the very least, this seemed to be the general idea to the main theme and plot of "Scars of Youth". There's not much time dedicated to the other aspects to the story of the movie. Either that or it was element only intended to drive the emotional conflict that's rising between Paul and Helen. Then again, it's obvious that no clear answers were intended to exist outside of these two characters. The parts regarding the enclosing border, the mysterious men in hazmat suits, the resistance and the mysterious liquid all tend to fall by the wayside, only leaving Paul and Helen's story. Which too, has a tendency to be rather sparse. Much like "Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare", Hand is more interested on taking the viewer through a visual journey by allowing mood and atmosphere to tell most of the story. And Hand pulls it off fairly well with his carefully composited shots of a cold, depressing, dystopic future.
"Scars of Youth" is certainly an experience in that regards as Hand seemed to effortlessly create another experimental movie that is guided more by visuals than narrative. Similarly to "Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare", I have a feeling of indifference for "Scars of Youth". I can't help but appreciate and admire Hand's sense of visuals that managed to produce a feeling of both serenity and melancholy in the film. And it functions how a experimental-arthouse movie should -- enough material to convey story and emotion but leaving the viewer to decide what those aspects are. However I had a hard time remaining engaged because of the pace creating a sense that the movie was slower and longer than it really was, and generally feeling too sparse. Hand knew the story and the themes he wanted to convey with "Scars of Youth" -- it's a very competent production -- but in the end, for me, I didn't find enough substance behind the visuals which left my interest wavering.