Directed by Gus Van Sant
I’ve talked before in my reviews about my reservations regarding violence in movies. Since I was young, I’ve always been deathly afraid of being deathly afraid. My fear is that some image or action in a film might be so disturbing that I may be psychologically scarred by it. Therefore, when I begin to watch a movie that I know is going to have significant violence, I’m in total suspense from the beginning. I don’t know if my experience is different from everyone else’s but when I’m in suspense, it’s really unpleasant. Actually, it almost physically hurts.
Recently I have been watching every movie I wanted to see from 2007 that I haven’t seen yet. Many of these films like 300, Eastern Promises and Death Proof contain pretty severe bloodshed and gore. Because I’ve faced my fears watching these films and because I emerged from them psychologically unaffected, I’m now placing films on my radar screen that I never would have considered before a few months ago.
All this leads up to talking about the single most disturbing image I’ve ever seen in film. It comes from 2001’s In the Bedroom starring Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. I won’t give away what happens in the plot during this disturbing moment since it’s a surprise twist which changes the direction of the entire film. I’ll still describe the image though.
The camera is extremely close up beginning with a character’s feet. Then it pans up his body in an unbroken shot. When his face begins to emerge, we see (extremely close up) that more than half his face is literally blown away. If I’m remembering correctly, his eyeball has been eviscerated as well. That’s how gruesome that image is, and worst of all, I wasn’t expecting it. If I know when to prepare myself for something gory or gruesome, I can usually relax because then I won’t be shocked by an unexpected image of horror. In the Bedroom didn’t prepare me, and as such, I was so disturbed while watching that I still think about this image more often than any other I’ve ever seen in a movie.
What does this have to do with
Then the image appears on screen. All I’ve got to say is that whoever replied to my post couldn’t have been more wrong. The image in
In one sense,
He begins the film writing what seems like an essay titled
The entire film is shot like a low budget documentary and all of the performances are presented in a neo-realistic way similar to Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, another film about an apathetic teenager coping with life’s difficulties. At two different points in the movie, Alex’s mind wanders which allows the film to show a real life montage showing actual skateboarders performing tricks. The way Van Sant’s direction and screenplay present these scenes help us see Alex’s escape from reality which skateboarding provides.
There are blatantly poetic and surrealistic touches that play without an ounce of pretension. At times, Alex begins to see things and do things in slow motion. At one point, we hear Alex’s voice triplicated and overlapping showing us Alex’s confusion and panic. Also, Van Sant keeps us guessing before things are revealed. For example, I mentioned above that he’s seemingly writing an essay presumably for school. Later on, he mentions that his girlfriend is a virgin who has made it clear that she wants to have sex with him. At that point, I stopped believing that he was doing an assignment. Yet, what he’s writing and why is wisely withheld until the end which kept me guessing.
There are individual scenes that are refreshingly smart and surprisingly authentic in tone. One clear example involves a police detective questioning a group of skateboarding teenagers at their school. These kids make disrespectful jokes in just the right way. They’re testing the limits of what they can get away with this new authority figure. The detective is obviously intimidated by these wiseass kids, which I thought was brilliant. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that a group of teenagers can be extremely intimidating at times. Also, I know for a fact that teens are always testing authority figures in order to illicit a reaction. You’ve got to know how to deal with kids that age, and clearly a police detective doesn’t have the experience or the skills necessary to earn these teenagers’ respect. I’ve never seen a movie capture this idea so authentically.
Another great scene takes place between Alex and his girlfriend Jennifer, played by the only main actor with any previous acting experience, Taylor Momson. Momson played Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and is presently a regular on Gossip Girls on the CW network. I won’t give away the topic of their conversation, but I will applaud the fact that Van Sant executed this scene with no sound. Instead, we see an uninterrupted inaudible shot of Jennifer reacting to what’s being said. Momson absolutely nails her performance in this scene. It’s one of the most satisfying touches I’ve seen in a movie in quite a while.
A final brilliant scene is clearly open for a lot of interpretation. It involves Alex’s thirteen year old brother excitedly describing to him what happens in a scene from the movie Napoleon Dynamite. We learn early on that his brother sometimes gets so upset because of the divorce that he throws up his dinner. I love how this scene reemphasizes Alex’s family problems by showing that his brother is also escaping from the harsh realities of their family situation. Also, because we transfer Alex’s brother’s pain back to Alex, we come to understand that Alex’s new problems are added to serious existing issues. You really feel for this truly descent kid.
I’ve always believed that skateboarding is a wonderful thing for teenagers to get involved in. Most of the kids that I teach that also skateboard aren’t the sort that would feel at home playing sports or performing on stage. Therefore, they find their niche through this impressive activity. Not to be stereotypical, but I believe many skateboarders are the sort that tend towards breaking the law, so while they are skateboarding, at least they’re not causing trouble. It’s precisely when Alex isn’t skateboarding that he causes mischief resulting in profound tragedy.