T.S. Eliot’s Classic Poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Gets Adapted into a Hip Modern Film

T.S. Eliot’s mod­ernist poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” gives us a psy­cho­log­i­cal por­trait of a neu­rot­ic char­ac­ter who elo­quent­ly per­se­ver­ates on the nature of his exis­tence and the weak­ness of his will. The poem is a dream, but not an erot­ic one. Prufrock’s libido is too tied up in knots of self-doubt and self-con­scious­ness for that. Though he moves through a high class broth­el, he hard­ly ever seems to touch anoth­er per­son, ask­ing him­self repeat­ed­ly, “Do I dare?”

“I am no prophet,” mus­es Prufrock, his name con­jur­ing a kind of gaunt Puri­tan­i­cal fig­ure who fears that “the eter­nal Foot­man” and the women who come and go are laugh­ing at him. Prufrock is pathet­ic and ridicu­lous, and he knows it. He escapes from the hell that is his life (the poem opens with an epi­graph from Dante’s Infer­no) with elab­o­rate sym­bol­ist day­dreams. He is a dandy­ish ver­sion of James Thurber’s Wal­ter Mit­ty.

You may be for­giv­en for see­ing few of these qual­i­ties in the cen­tral char­ac­ter of “A Lovesong,” a short film by direc­tor Lau­ra Scrivano and star­ring Daniel Hen­shall (from the AMC series TURN: Wash­ing­ton’s Spies). They are not there. The project sup­pos­ed­ly arose from Henshall’s own fas­ci­na­tion with the poem. But in this adap­ta­tion of it, Prufrock—if we can call Henshall’s char­ac­ter by that name—seems to have no trou­ble with his libido.

Henshall’s soli­tary fig­ure is pen­sive, brood­ing, and hip—a whiskey-sip­ping Brook­lyn flâneur—mov­ing between a seduc­tive night­time New York and a sleep­ing lover in bed, recall­ing per­haps Prufrock’s ref­er­ence to “one-night cheap hotels.” The film is a unique inter­pre­ta­tion of Eliot’s com­men­tary on mod­ern alien­ation, one per­haps suit­ed to our moment. Yet, we would half-expect that any con­tem­po­rary Prufrock would wan­der the streets lost in his smart­phone, fret­ting over his lack of suf­fi­cient “likes.”

For con­trast to this styl­ish reimag­ing of “Prufrock,” we can hear Eliot him­self read from the poem just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

T.S. Eliot Reads His Mod­ernist Mas­ter­pieces “The Waste Land” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Young T.S. Eliot Writes “The Tri­umph of Bullsh*t” and Gives the Eng­lish Lan­guage a New Exple­tive (1910)

T.S. Eliot’s Rad­i­cal Poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Read by Antho­ny Hop­kins and Eliot Him­self

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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