If you take just a quick look at Death In Venice — and for what matters here, we’ll talk about the movie, not the book — it is, we might think, just another love story. Then, if you dig little deeper (i.e. actually watching the movie ), you can see that it is about that very specific platonic love that won’t ever happen. But if you decide to go to the core of it, to watch it for a third or fourth time, maybe you’ll get to the same conclusion as me (Just let me warn you not to expect some sort of epiphany here).
Love is not what matters for Luchino Visconti.
We can see love — some sort of it, in a classic and conventional way — when Gustav von Aschenbach, the main character played by Dirk Bogarde, spends some time with his wife and daughter, in a flashback scene. That might look like love. There’s also some love on the way the polish family relate, especially when it comes to the way Visconti portraits the relationship between Tadzio and his mom. We’ll take that as love too.
But, in the end, love won’t matter. And it won’t matter because, as said before, that platonic love we’re watching grow inside Gustav; that love won’t happen.
Death In Venice is a classic, well-known book, created by one of the greatest writers of his time and, in part because of that, we assume, at least nowadays, that people had the story culturally forged into their minds. And we’re talking about the seventies. The movie industry was huge then and, despite the fact that it’s a movie by an Italian director based on a German writer, it was produced by Warner Bros.
With that in mind, it’s reasonable to think that the audience knew, beforehand, what they were going to see during that two-hour piece of Cannes-winning cinema. And it was not love.
Then, if not about love, what is Death In Venice all about?