Paul Auster has said that The Inner Life of Martin Frost is a comedic answer to his film Lulu on the Bridge. Lulu on the Bridge is a story about a dying man's fantasy about a woman playing the role that Louise Brooks made famous in the German expressionist film Pandora's Box. Louise Brooks was probably film's greatest portrayal of the idealized woman. Every man painted his fantasy on her lithe figure. So what do we make of The Inner Life of Martin Frost? In short, it is about a man's creation of a woman and that creation's struggle to become real and alive.
More specifically, the film begins with Auster's voice, which is apropos, because he has one of the strongest authorial voices writing. His narration immediately alerts us to the fact that this is a story, being told by a writer, about writers and their muses. But, more importantly, we learn that this story will be continued to be written and revised, even as the last scene fades out. Consequently, there is no resolution, no completion for the viewer by the the narrator. Instead, we must finish the tale on our own.
The story is also a meta-fiction, which constantly refers to writers and their books. To emphasize this a wall of books plays a pivotal part in the film. On that wall of books two particular writers seem to receive attention--Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka.
It is also a film about perception and the philosophy of perception. Claire reads aloud from Berkeley and Hume.
It is also a story about how men create women and how women nurture that creation and the dangers that arise from this artifice. In that regard, Auster has picked two exquisite and ethereal actresses to play the spirits or the muses-Irene Jacob and Sophie Auster.
The men, or the writers, come in two flavors-the slow, serious writer-Martin (David Thewlis)-or the plumber/writer-James Fortunato(Michael Imperioli), an alter ego for both Auster and Frost. As an aside Fortunato is one of the most interesting characters that Auster has created. He reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout.
So, what about this movie? It is beautifully shot; the actors are wonderful; but it is a puzzle and a mystery. It frustrated me but it made me think. I have watched it twice and it grows on me. I highly recommend it to literary souls who are interested in the creative process and don't mind the frustrating tropes of meta-fiction.