This mysterious work adapted by Booker-nominated author Deborah Levy from her own story captures the dynamic between two advertising men, Tom and Nikos, who have some bond between them that seems to be melding who they are, or at least who they think they are.
We greet the day with Tom, who doesn’t truly greet anything. He is emotionally separated from the people he sees on the London streets each morning but taunted by his memories of a haughty Dutch tutor from his childhood, an Anita Ekberg type that awakens all sorts of feelings in young Tom that collide, maternal and sexual. This memory does not seem welcome by Tom, who finds embarrassment in the way he attempted to achieve emotional equality with the woman while appreciating the mothering she provided, the positive affirmation.
Which brings us to Nikos. In a flashback months to months earlier, Tom recounts a time when Nikos calls him from a beach in Spain at 2 a.m. sputtering words that Tom recognizes but doesn’t understand what they mean. They seem to describe the landscape in Spain that Nikos has encountered, but Tom is more confused when Nikos begins rattling off details of his childhood. That is, Nikos is claiming moments of Tom’s childhood as his own. Cursed with an abusive father, Tom’s tutor offers to play the role of protector and mentor as well, to teach him how to defend himself.
From there, Levy’s tale slips into some classic surrealism, with Tom inhabiting a dream-like atmosphere as Nikos slowly takes on more aspects of Tom’s life as his own, suggesting that they are perhaps different aspects of the same existence. Or not that at all. Maybe they are linked emotionally, and those emotions are engulfing them. Maybe Tom is imaginary. Maybe Nikos is imaginary. Sometimes Tom and Nikos work in communion with each other to decipher memories, while other time Tom is at odds with this man who is taking Tom’s history as his own.
And when women from both their lives make appearances in the narrative — Nikos’ sister, Tom’s mother — they are hostile, a bit domineering while also distant. The longer Tom continues to parse out the obvious differences in him and Nikos’ personal history; the less these differences seem to matter, with Nikos’ mental disorder acting like a manifestation of Tom’s inability to process his own problems.
Stardust Nation ends as mysteriously as it begins. Levy’s concerns are with the intangible, while artist Andrzej Klimowski lets it unfold in literal terms, adding no sense of wonder to the proceedings, but grounding them in a reality that they may not exist within. That’s a significant presentation. For Nikos, there is no differentiation between what exists in his brain and reality. And Tom is just learning that lesson. It’s a situation we all live in, whether we realize it or not. Realities are separate, yet realities clash. Reality is impossible to parse the limits of in contrast to our psychologies.