Posted in Literature, Mixed Review, Reading

Mr. Cincinnatus

I have pretty weird opinions about books most of the time, so I thought it’d be a good idea to share them (nice logic there, isn’t it?)

This About page gives a pretty clear idea of what I’m going to do with this blog. In short, I’ll review books in connection with movies/TV-shows/plays that they remind me of. Not the movie versions of said books, obviously. I’ll just point out the parallels I see in the plot, characters, themes etc.

I hope it turns out well.

Book: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov


Movie: Mr. Nobody directed by Jaco Van Dormael


Recently we had to read Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading for literature class. And I must say, it was an amazing experience. I was used to the Nabokov who wrote Lolita, the rich poems and short stories I know and love, not the Nabokov I saw in this particular work. It was originally written in Russian and first published in the 1930s. Those were pretty dark times thanks to a bunch of off-the-rocker dictators, which is why many critics assumed he was writing about this period of history.

The book tells the story of Cincinnatus C. who is accused of ‘gnostical turpitude’ and sentenced to a beheading. He is unaccepted by the society he lives in because he is ‘impervious to the rays of others’, producing ‘a bizarre impression, as of a lone dark obstacle in this world of souls transparent to one another’. The whole book is virtually him waiting for his execution while interacting with the apparently lifeless, will-less inhabitants of the world.

Now, the title implies a pretty sad ending. Or a deus ex machina happy one. Well, the end of the novel was something completely unexpected, leaving me staring at the book like an idiot for several minutes once I was done with the book.

During a lecture.


Because the regime in the novel’s setting resembles totalitarianism, the aforementioned critics wasted no time driving Nabokov’s work into that context. His answer:

I composed the Russian original exactly a quarter of a century ago in Berlin, some fifteen years after escaping from the Bolshevist regime, and just before the Nazi regime reached its full volume of welcome. The question whether or not my seeing both in terms of one dull beastly farce had any effect on this book, should concern the good reader as little as it does me.

Another interesting point is his reply to those who claimed certain authors had influenced his work. He says that the only author who had any influence on him as he wrote the book is ‘the melancholy, extravagant, wise, witty, magical, and altogether delightful Pierre Delalande, whom I invented.’

Quaint and witty, as always.

Mr. Nobody is a movie like no other. An amazing performance by Jared Leto and the philosophical themes permeating the plotline make the film a striking motion picture about life, the universe and, well, everything.

It tells the story of Nemo, the last mortal in a world that’s defeated mortality (not at all a great place to live). Before his birth, his memory was supposed to have been erased by the Angels of Oblivion, but they forget about him (poor Nemo), which allows him to keep in mind several futures once he is born into this world. Here’s what his life is like:

For me, time is inverted. I start at the end of the story and go toward the beginning.

The movie is multi-layered, exploring many aspects of truly human life — the finite lifetime, which motivates us to strive to achieve our goals and dreams before we die, opposed to the indolent existence of an immortal. In this movie, time as a dimension is not at all what we normally perceive. There’s a new twist on such problems as the need to choose, the assessment of risks and consequences of a decision.

We cannot go back. That’s why it’s hard to choose. You have to make the right choice.

As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible.

The similarities between Nabokov’s novel and this world are quite obvious:

  • The rebel defying society with his very nature
  • A society that’s devoid of usual moral norms and life values
  • The impending death of the character
  • An open ending

But for me, there was something even deeper than superficial parallels. It was in the pace of the book and the movie, in the style of narration and the cinematic scenes, as well in the little quirks and actions of Cincinnatus and the way Nemo moves and speaks on-screen. Both works are about life, and this is what ties them together. Life not in its grandeur and excitement, but rather in its mundane, sort of predictable quality, which makes seemingly insignificant moments invaluable.

And since I’m in love with instrumental music, I can’t possibly ignore the amazing soundtrack. Below is one tracks accompanying the movie, which is a gentle, a bit sad but beautiful piece of art. The director’s brother, Pierre Van Dormael, did a wonderful job.

It helps that the music fits Invitation to a Beheading perfectly. The whole soundtrack is in this playlist, if you’re interested.

That’s all for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read the book or watched the movie.

Till next time!



Absolutely fantastic procrastinator. Creative, often irrational, hyperactive. Reader, writer, artist, photographer, film-maker, gamer.

3 thoughts on “Mr. Cincinnatus

  1. This isn’t a Nabokov I know, except by name, though I’ve read a lot of his books. Don’t know the film either, but that’s because I rarely watch films. I do like the way you draw parallels though. It’s an invitation to read the book and watch the film and get carried away by the music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really glad you liked it=) I love Nabokov and every work of his uncovers something completely new about life, society, human nature (at least for me). I’m sure you’d enjoy this book. The film is immersive, too, and has that touch of originality rarely present in modern works.


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