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  • An Interview With Francis Ford Coppola

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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    Francis Ford Coppola Presents

    Youth Without Youth

    How do you comprehend human consciousness—really understand its essential nature? One day a martian might come down to Earth and say, "You humans have this thing you call consciousness. We don't think we have it. Can you explain what it is, what it feels like?" And what would you say? You'd say, "Well, it's a kind of knowing that involves self-knowing, so that the process of my knowing has with it a personality that I can feel is in fact myself—so that I am aware of my thinking."

    Q: So does this mean that while you're thinking, you're also thinking that you're thinking?
    A: Yes, it's sort of like that; it's that I'm thinking with an identity - an emotional identity - so I'm aware that I'm thinking. I'm self-aware.

    Q: I really appreciate your telling me what consciousness is because we, being from another planet, have intelligence, which is to say, we can think, we can figure out problems, but we feel that human beings have a much more mysterious sense of inner-self that we don't think we have. Can you describe it to us?
    A: Well, I can try to describe it. It's as I've said—if you are a person with only one eye, you see only length and width, with no sense of depth. Now add a second eye, and that difference—that new perception of depth—is a kind of consciousness. However, human consciousness is not just a third dimension, it's multiple dimensions, and it exists in thought, in reasoning, in emotion, in imagery, because it draws upon memory.

    Q: That's very interesting. I do understand what you mean about three dimensions, but a person with only one eye, who'd never perceived three dimensions, could not understand this concept. So perhaps that's why I can't understand consciousness.
    A: That's exactly right. That's exactly what I'm trying to say. It's a - it's a wholeness that's multifaceted, but not multifaceted in separate little categories: multifaceted in the potential for three dimensions to illuminate a larger picture, a larger sense of self. That's what I think consciousness is.

    Q: Oh. Very interesting. I don't understand at all.
    A: Well, that's why I decided to make this movie, Youth Without Youth, to better understand these ideas for myself.

    Q: Has that been the case - do you understand these ideas and yourself better now, having made the movie?
    A: I think so. I used to say I was interested in consciousness and time because film is so adept at working in those areas; but now I think I'm most captivated by consciousness, because time is an invention of consciousness. That's what this story is all about. The reality in which we live is beyond our immediate perceptions. Even as a kid, I knew the stars were not little balls of fire in the sky.

    Q: Then what is the true nature of reality?
    A: It's a kind of changing tapestry of illusion, and that's also this movie: a tapestry of illusion.

    QL: Are people interested in movies like that?
    A: Well, the movie's also a beautiful love story and a mystery of a kind. I've tried to build the story so that people don't have to immediately occupy themselves with this examination of consciousness. But then later, seeing the film again, if they want to consider it from that perspective, they can and they'll discover additional dimensions to the story. That's the kind of movie I like to make: one that gives more as people give more of themselves to it.

    Interview courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics for Francis Ford Coppola's role in Youth Without Youth.

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