There’s a telling passage during a scene in Paolo Sorrentino’s film This Must be The Place in which the story’s protagonist, Cheyenne, a long-retired rock star whose melancholy songs inspired the suicides of two teenagers, is conversing with the son of Rachel, the daughter of the Nazi war criminal that tormented Cheyenne’s father during World War II and the Holocaust and whom Cheyenne has committed to bringing to justice. The boy wants the former rock star to play a particular song. The exchange goes as follows:
Cheyenne: What do you want me to play?
Rachel’s son: ‘This Must be The Place’ by Arcade Fire.
Cheyenne: Nonsense. ‘This Must be The Place’ is by the Talking Heads.
Rachel’s son: No, it’s by Arcade Fire.
Cheyenne: Trust me, you’re delusional.”
Cheyenne, of course, is right. The song was written by Talking Heads lead David Byrne. The lyrics to Byrne’s song include the line “Home – is where I want to be But I guess I’m already there.” During Cheyenne’s journey through life, torn with remorse for tragic effects his own lyrics had on those two dead children, he encounters Byrne, who insists on treating Cheyenne as an equal. Cheyenne’s reaction to this display of mutual respect is to openly confront the demons that have been tormenting him for 20 years:
“I used to write dreary songs beause they were all the rage and made tons of money. Depressed songs for depressed kids. And two of the, more fragile than the rest, ended up doing themselves in a result of it. And now I go to a cemetery once a week to appease my guilt, and it doesn’t make it better. It makes it fucking worse. And then my wife asks me why I don’t play anymore and I think she must be a fool because she just loves me very much, which makes her more of a fool because she doesn’t know what a disaster her husband is. And that’s it, David! That’s it!”
This is all relevant to the question at hand – what is the significance of the film’s title to the story. The dour tone of Byrne’s lyrics and how those lyrics, particularly lines like “I feel numb –burn with a weak heart, (So I) guess I must be having fun,” speak to the spiritual emptiness that has defined Cheyenne’s existence since those twin suicides years before denote an emptiness that Cheyenne has been unable to fill. Many an artist has professed to be on a life-long spiritual journey to “find themselves.” Cheyenne has discovered, to his dismay, that, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein’s description of Oakland, ‘there’s no there there.’ He has tried to find meaning in his life, and his search for the war criminal who tormented his father decades before is intended to give his life meaning, has served only to illuminate the fact that this is all there is. “This must be the place” is a reference to the disappointment many feel when their journeys end without any kind of revelatory experience. At the end of the film, Cheyenne, with the help of the aging Nazi hunter Mordechai, has successfully tracked down Aloise Lange, the fugitive war criminal. What should have been a climactic moment, however, is strangely empty. The gun Cheyenne purchased proves useless; he has no will to commit murder. All he can do is humiliate Lange as vengeance for the humiliation his father experienced at the Nazi’s hands. “This must be the place” represents the unsatisfying resolution of a journey.