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.