I watched Nobody Loves You And You Don’t Deserve To Exist (2022) because I saw an article about it in the latest issue of Prospect.
It begins with a quotation from Borges.
We then travel over the landscape of modern Britain to a point on the Moors. The unnamed female narrator introduces the story:
NARRATOR: Once upon a time, in a land that God forgot, lived an angry old man who hated his mother more than anything. He hated her more than the King who loved his food. He hated her more than the politicians who stole from the people. And he hated her more than the dead who had left him behind. The name of this man was Jack and this is his story.
We then see a rapid montage of the streets and places of urban Britain, finally settling in a flat in Greater Manchester somewhere.
Someone is looking through the letterbox – this may be the neighbour who appears near the end.
Inside, Jack awakes from a dream filled with blood and violence.
He sees a packed suitcase at the end of his bed.
He looks at his text messages and phone updates, as this is the early days of the pandemic.
The text conversation:
JACK: Rob’s phone’s off now. What’s happening?
OTHER: Both hospital he is on ventilator
OTHER: I’m on oxygen and drips
JACK: Oh no. That’s terrible. What have the doctors said?
OTHER: Struggling i text later sorry
Jack walks to the room next door and sees himself at his desk, trying to write.
He sits before a reproduction of Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights, with a mug with a feel-good message on it.
But his life has been sliding in to depression for some time, living with tablets and vodka, and it’s now March 13th 2020.
We go on a journey from his childhood, with the same narrator filling in the basic details. He was unhappy at school as he was unhappy at home due to his mum, and how she instilled in him “Anxiety, self-doubt, resentment and fear”.
We see the first of several interviews with women in his life. Notice that all these figures sit in a room with a reproduction of Bosch’s Garden in the background, and mug with a happy message in the foreground, which the camera will focus on at one point.
This woman is one of his step-sisters, who hasn’t seen him in years. She remembers the life on the estate with druggies and violence and how he hated it and his step-dad and his mum. We have a moment of racist language and the camera flickers over the image in the background that includes a golliwog figure.
We have a long monologue from Jack aged 10 in 1984, talking of how he hates his home and step-dad. He has a love of reading, but is already learning to be careful about concealing it at school. Some of this detail is similar to Mark Hodkinson’s memories of being a young working class reader in the 70s.
We see Barbara, his English A-level teacher. It is slanted very much that she prizes literature that appeals to middlebrow middle-class ideals of messages and their interpretation, and that teenage Jack was somewhat at odds with this outlook. But it also sounds as though teenage Jack only had one unoriginal idea and was too fond of it, as is the way with aspiring teenage intellectuals who need careful encouragement to grow. The book she is reading is shown to be the Penguin Lady With Lapdog by Chekhov, which includes “Ward 6”, which is thematically close to this film (probably not an intentional connection).
We go to 1992 and the tracksuited student Jack, away from home and getting immersed in early 90s drug-powered music scenes as well as the dissolute lives of the middle class washouts around him. Whereas schoolboy Jack seemed to be speaking from his own time, this later Jack seems to be meditating from somewhere just to the outside of the time in question. He uses expressions like “learning curve” which I don’t think had quite achieved wide circulation at that point.
He uses casually racist language which wasn’t really ok at that time, regardless of whether you were “right-on” or not. But he doesn’t seem to have been very connected to any social reality, as the pills clearly drove him to a freakout and breakdown panic attacks and paranoid fantasies that he was a serial killer with a pile of bodies under his bed (which fits with the dream he was having at the start). All this builds to the realisation that he has nobody in the world who cares about him, nobody to meet him or set a place for him at a dinner table, and he may as well not exist.
The next speaker we meet is a Head Of Department at Hulme College, who regrets that he was one of the staff members she inherited when she took over. It appears he got in to teaching as part of a New Labour-initiated scheme circa 2000 (so he must have had a few lost years in the 90s). This HoD doesn’t like him as he seemed to be too keen on making the kids laugh and enjoy his lessons, and it is implied this is all a Dead Poets Society situation in which a brave romantic soul is crushed and expelled by the dead hands of Mr Gradgrind, or the influence of Michael Gove in this case. Actually we never hear whether the students are laughing with him or at him – maybe he was an appalling early-middle-aged trendy already boring them with dreary memories of early 90s techno that says nothing to them about their lives. Would he have been fired if he was achieving good exam results, which we might expect if he was inspiring a real fascination with his subject? If he thinks the Eng.Lit. exam system is inherently stultifying then he should have got a different job. However we do hear later that at least one former student was enthused and stayed in touch with him. That life ended in an early death.
The narrative becomes a bit obscure – it seems he was removed from the College, but continued teaching. There was some relationship with a younger girlfriend and her strongly religious parents made trouble for Jack, and he hit rock bottom with drink and drugs.
He seems to have had a destitute life for a while and ended up in his current position. He never seems to have been far away from Manchester.
The final witness is a care home worker who is also working on a social science PhD about “families in Brexit Britain”. She complained angrily to Jack about the noise he was making next door to her flat, and this provoked a tearful breakdown as he said he was trying to cope with bereavements and loneliness. She went back again later and found the flat apparently deserted – that may have been the moment near the beginning, a pair of hands at the letterbox.
Jack is also back at the beginning, crawling across the Moors with his suitcase, scowling at the monument and calling out the callous indifference of the infinite void.
Remembering the recent death of his last friend Rob.
JACK: A few months later, surprise surprise, Rob ends up in a coma in hospital don’t he, course he does. All wired up to ventilator with tubes stuck up his nose and down his throat. He’d only gone and caught the fucking virus ain’t he. Like a silly cunt he carried on going out and about like normal, thinking it was just the flu or summat, like we’d all been told. Thinking China, Italy and Spain had nowt to do with us, and like every other fucker in the country these days, he was a bit racist.
Open the suitcase, finally.
The Borges quote at the start rather suggests this is not a literal journey but the final vision of a dying soul looking back on itself (the 2 figures in the flat, observing each other). That’s an old narrative shape, and a popular (though apparently incorrect) interpretation of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Here, the uncertainty about when these witnesses are speaking, and the common motifs of the painting and the mug, suggest they are recurring patterns in Jack’s own imagination of the spectators around his life. He is writing the script of his narrator.
But who was he really? There are also recurring voicemail messages left from a grandmother from down South, who sounds much more well-spoken. Young Jack mentioned he was picked on at school for having a bit of a posh Southern accent. Perhaps his hatred of his mum is informed by the knowledge that she’s a selfish dropout who cheated him of the much nicer family life he could have had growing up closer to that voice on phone that he can’t talk to now because it’s too late to live the life not lived.
In the end there is the time of the pandemic and all the lives split up and dying apart and alone. That’s the suitcase of memories that will be carried around for the years to come.