The truth is in the bottle

Charles Bukowski’s “Factotum” is put on screen and placed in Minneapolis

Emily Garber

Henry Chinaski is a man of many jobs. Rather, he’s a man who halfheartedly takes on a multitude of mindless tasks, only to leave halfway through them so he can get drunk.

“Factotum,” based on the novel of the same name, follows Charles Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon), as he works job after job to pay for a life of drinking, gambling and sex. Along the way, he falls in love with fellow lost soul Jan (Lili Taylor), and they embark on a tempestuous relationship fueled by sex, pancakes and cheap red wine.

Filmed primarily in Minneapolis, the film uses our Gold Medal Flour sign and Warehouse district to play backdrop for the film. Set in an impersonal metropolis, both the book and the film are a revolt against the bureaucracy that forces men and women to spend their lives in meaningless ways.

The film finds humor in the sheer insanity of the everyday world – a highlight being when Chinaski takes a job dusting under the nose of a giant stone statue called “Vision of Peace.”

Bukowski’s main characters often are recognized for their complete uninterestedness in the world, and Chinaski – who appeared in five Bukowski novels – is no exception. He and Jan wake one morning in a bedroom as smoky as their lungs, but return to bed after realizing their apartment is ablaze and being stormed by firemen.

Dillon does an exceptional job creating Chinaski’s drawl and perplexed frown, as if he never understands why things are as crazy as they are. He doesn’t give a damn if we like him – and often we don’t – for example, when he punches Jan in the bar downstairs. But his attempts to maintain a certain amount of integrity in a modern city never are less than intriguing.

Executive producer and Minneapolis resident Christine Kunewa Walker said in a Q&A after a screening that she isn’t “even really all that much of a Bukowski fan.” She was hesitant to produce this movie because, as she asked, “Haven’t movies about alcoholic bums been done?”

Ultimately, it was the clips of Bukowski’s poetry and Chinaski’s surprisingly deep philosophies that captured her attention.

“If the poor aren’t going to be decent with each other, who will be?” is just one example of Chinaski’s deep thoughts.

While talking to Jan one drunken and sex-filled night, he states, “People don’t need love, they need success in one form or another. It can be love, but it doesn’t have to be.”

It’s these surprisingly well-stated life lessons that ultimately hold the film together. Chinaski is a character who discounts the confusion and absurdity of the modern world. He just wants to get paid and get drunk.

It’s not noble, but it’s his choice.