This film is really so perfect for me, I almost felt like the images were coming directly out of my own thoughts. There was a point, late into it, where it was quiet and I thought, “I hope he uses another Elliott Smith song,” and then two seconds later “Angeles” started up. I think this film ranks with Van Sant’s top flight work — Mala Noche, My Own Private Idaho, Elephant and Paranoid Park, four films that will always confirm him as a visionary.
Like all the best art, it’s deceptively simple on the surface. Simple story, lots of close-ups, lots of musical cues — but within that disarmingly direct technique there’s so many different subtle waves of things going on. Van Sant and C. Doyle play with light so inventively, these sudden time-elapsed changes within a single shot, suggestive of the way things can do a 180 in a heartbeat. The film is brilliant in terms of opposing different moods — there’s a great contrast early on, using slow motion shots of Gabe Nevins walking to his first interrogation with the cop, where he sort of swaggers to a song that’s full of bravado, and then leaving the room, more caved in and haunted, to one of my favorite, sad/lovely Smith songs, “The White Lady Loves You More” — as the narrative unfolds, you start to notice how “dead” and lost Gabe Nevins starts to look after the murder scene. Which isn’t exactly a murder, but rather one of the most poetic and brutal images of a son trying to forgive his father that I’ve ever seen. Understanding the father’s pain and vulnerability, in a way that’s too much to handle, too painful.
Without hitting the subject too hard, the film really captures the impact of divorce on children and young people. The parents aren’t malevolent; they’re just not much older themselves (sort of like James Russo as the father figure in My Own Private Idaho, just a slightly more grown hustler) and lost in their own shit. I didn’t find anything exploitative about this film — the shower scene, a more elegant to tribute to Psycho than all of the Psycho remake taken together, is not played exploitatively; in fact Van Sant carefully blocks Nevin so that we almost entirely see him from the shoulders up. There’s an amazing shot of the water falling on his hair, and a special light is used to make the water in his hair really glow, like some kind of metal congealing and flashing.
The slow motion tends to make every look exchanged between people either lewd or sinister, but I think what this really is is the first drug movie where you never actually see anyone using. Those cliches are dispensed with in favor of seeing the effects, the strange furtive openness of being stoned. I guess I don’t know how to say it exactly, it’s more just a feeling I get, I want to watch this more. There is a great tribute to European cinema (think Godard mixed with Fellini) as we see Taylor Momsen getting dumped, getting angry, all without any words, the dialogue is silent and we hear only the Rota theme from Amarcord. Also, the repetition-shots here, less looping and extended than in Elephant, recall the short bursts of “interior p.o.v.” in Resnais. But, as you see, I’m excited about this film and I could talk a lot about it.
Paranoid Park and Last Days are mesmerizing, superb films. Their repuations are just going to grow and grow. Great filmmaking, great sound design.
A large part of Paranoid Park’s merit was in the fact that it’s so evocative of a state of mind. I remember the film vividly, because it gave me the sense of being in a very specific mental state where I’m disconnected and unable to focus… it reminded me of clinical hypoglycemia. The various suspense stories were deadpan, convincing, and a perfect framework for this exercise in phenomenology. Honestly, I don’t know how Van Sant replicated the mental state so effectively. Such attention to the nuances of experience is a mark of a mature artist, in my opinion.
“Paranoid Park” grows directly out of Gus’ engagement with young people when making “Elelphant.” He told me that casting young people to play their own age is entirely different from what Holywood does — casting 20 year olds to play much younger kids. “Their body language is entirely different. They don’t move the smae way.” And “Paranoid Park” makes this obvious.
Christopher Doyle not only shot the film he palys the father’s boyfriend.
In complete agreement, Justin. The only Van Sant film I prefer is Elephant, but I love both so hard. I’ve seen Paranoid Park quite a few times and it just continues to grow on me. It’s mind-numbingly beautiful and every time I watch it I find myself very moved. A really poignant and accurate portrait of adolescence. And yes, the music is splendid. As I begin to look at what films to select as my favourites of the decade, both Elephant and Paranoid Park stand out for me.
Jesse & David: my thoughts also – it was the actors
When I saw the film, I thought, “Now why doesn’t that kid get nominated for an Oscar?” Well, because the Oscars are usually full of it, that’s why. But what a great performance. And the team of Doyle and Van Sant meant it was beauitifully shot. One of the great movies of the last ten years.
Gus found Gabe Nevins on “My Space.” Gabe and his parents aren’t really sure, at this point, if he wants to continue as an actor Meanwhile Taylor Momsen has conquered the world via “Gossip Girl.”
Elias McConnell, the kid whom played the photographer in “Elephant” is featured in Gus’ episode in “Paris Je t’aime” and has become part of the extended Gus family.
Jesse, I think you’re right about the psychological states being portrayed — there’s that amazing interlude on the bridge where Van Sant overlaps all these different lines, the words that Nevins is thinking/saying to himself. It’s one of the most successful, maybe the most successful, interior monologue I’ve ever seen in a film because it feels like he’s really thinking, not just reciting a composed text as if it were his thoughts. It pulls you right in.
I thought it was implied that “Uncle Tommy” was the dad’s lover, not a real uncle — thanks for confirming that, David.
I couldn’t agree more about the older actors playing teenagers — it’s so fake and TV. I think there is a big difference. The girls in particular (not Taylor so much as Mindy and her friend) have much more of a straightforward, unpolished demeanor — they’re not stars, groomed from infancy to stand in front of cameras in expensive costumes and deliver lines. It isn’t even just that they’re really 15, it’s that they’re 15 year olds that aren’t actors. But how great is it that Van Sant not only cast them, but shepherded them toward these perfect performances, that aren’t even like performances.
@Justin – I totally agree.
One of the things I liked about it was how well it captured Portland and it’s residents. I respond very strongly to good portraits of places (think Babel (which made me actually remember the smell) and Lost in Translation IRT Tokyo) I’ve been to, and Paranoid Park really brought that out for me.
Beautiful, beautiful film. Don’t really have much else to say—you guys have pretty much summed it up.
Poopbutt, that’s so not true — he doesn’t fetishize boys, unless you are alarmed just by knowing that a gay man is working with and filming teenage male actors, but that’s not a rational response. The little sex there is in Paranoid Park is tasteful and unexploitative. Anyway, do you feel the same way about Larry Clark and young girls/boys, or countless hetero directors who shoot cheesecake? And I guess the bottom line is: even if he does do that, so what? Caravaggio, maybe the greatest painter who ever lived, was erotically inspired by his young male models. When the results are as great as Paranoid Park, it’s hard to quibble with the methods.
Gabe gave Poopbutt a stiffy and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
I really loved this film as well. As soon as I saw it, I had to purchase it immediately. I put it in the same category as Clean, Shaven and Antichrist for being able to affect me in the same way the characters are affected in the film. This film might be the film that has had the biggest emotion affect on me.
He told me that casting young people to play their own age is entirely different from what Holywood does — casting 20 year olds to play much younger kids. “Their body language is entirely different. They don’t move the smae way.” And “Paranoid Park” makes this obvious.
I couldn’t agree more.
I’m glad to see other people love this film too.
I’ve actually got a question (well many, but one that has been nagging at me for a while: why that particular sound-scape during the shower scene? Crows/birds calling?
That’s a call-back to “Psycho” where Gus used the same sound.
What Justin Vicari said.
It’s one of my favorites. I might like Elephant better as far as Van Sant films go, but Paranoid Park is the most beautiful. I especially like the “Happy Citizenship Day.” message on the telephone. It’s like, “Get used to it kid, this is life.”