Monday, April 22, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines

I thought it was great. For all its length I didn't want it to end. It had me from the first long opening shot to the final lingering shot of the place the kid rides away from, leaves the place beyond the pines behind to get to a place beyond the place beyond the pines.

I've heard people say the third part is a let down. Not to me. I think it's a fitting complement to, and resolution of, the movie's themes as they expand in scope, complexity, intensity and depth from part to part to part.

I'm going from imperfect memory here.

I ask myself what's the movie about, as well as how it's about what it's about, as Ebert used to say. I think it's about a great many things but a central and rather slapping-one-across-the-face thing is the theme of fathers and sons and the generational consequences of fathers' acts and omissions. So Gosling's father, absent as one, leaves a drifting wayward son. Gosling is determined, partly in reaction to that, to do right by his son, who is some of the wages of the drift of his life. 

He's so elemental that unnuanced linearity is of his laconic  essence. He will do right by his son. He quits his job. He tells Eva Mendes to be with him. She asks, trying to maintain and ascend a more complex linear path, how will he take care of them. Bourgeois stability, the opposite of what he has been in his life, is important to her even if she struggles with her deep attraction to him: she has a man, a house, a job, schooling she's doing. Her return fling with him is mostly that. So now he sees he needs more money than his bust out job can possibly provide him, seeing materially with what he needs to compete for her. So he cottons on to Mendelsohn's original suggestion of robbing banks, which he does with his own extreme, fear-induced excitable, flair.

Now he feels he can get Mendes and his child to be with him. He thinks it will just happen. And we expect, at this point not realizing how tis movie goes, that he will confront her new man, and beat his time. His simple mindedness has him unable to understand propriety. He just shows up at her house, owned by her partner. He in effect busts in to her house with a crib and starts assembling it thinking nothing of it. Her man confronts him, with due shock at his mindless temerity, just coming in, thinking to turn their lives upside down, just like that. And the new man's more bourgeois stability, house, job, providing for his "family" proves no match for the muscled, outlaw, outlier strength  and violence Gosling wreaks of. But just at the point that one might think he's done what he needs to to dispose of the competition, Mendes is utterly shocked and repulsed by him and lovingly tends to her man.

As we ascend class to the next part of the movie, we move into greater moral murkiness and complex ambiguity. Cooper, a bar passed patrol cop, the son of a well regarded judge, who he's driven to react against in his life, is of his essence a morally divided man, so restlessly ambitious he rips off his hospital tubes and aids and tries immediately to get out of bed. His shooting of Gosling is, *to my mind,* his attempt to jet himself ahead in his career. He had no need to enter the home, having called for back up. He probably broke protocol by doing so. He knew Gosling was upstairs. He needn't have entered the room as sirens signalled other police arriving. He made a desperate lunge for the career propulsion of heroics. He burst into the room shooting first.

The scenes between him and Bruce Greenwood, especially the first one, are marvels of nuance and levels of meaning consistent with ambiguous morality. Greenwood ambivalently investigates him in that first interview while signalling explicitly to him what to say. 

Then the intensity of Cooper's desire to one better his father is steeped in naïveté when he tells his commanding officer he wants to be made Lieutenant and the head of a squad. And his simmering reaction against his father is evident when he says in his speech, with his father watching, that he wishes to act to serve justice rather than sit and talk about it.

His marriage fails and his overweening ambition and guilt ridden moral ambiguity seem to be part of what wrecked it and in seem in significant part to have yielded his complex, morally deficient son, who is so self-alienated that, in his absurd wiggery, he can't be any kind of authentic self. Gosling's son, absent a biological father, a source of some inner emptiness, still has the benefit of a father in Mendes's partner, who's shown as an uncomplicated good man who has made a stable good life for Mendes, their daughter, and Gosling's son. In Gosling's conception of family, Mendes, their child and his motorcycle all have pride of place.

Generational circles start to close in the complicated relationship between the sons and in Gosling's son's growing realization of who his biological father is and was, learning of it from Mendelsohn--note the bike riding as an echo of his father's motorcycle riding--the kind of brilliant outlaw, outlier gifts Gosling had, his outlawry itself, and how he died at the hands of Cooper. 

But lineage isn't destiny, though virtually necessary to, but not sufficient for, the kind of man a son will be. So transcending any necessary fate, that aided by the fathering he's gotten from Mendes's partner, Gosling's son murders neither Cooper, who is both politically triumphant and abject when kneeling before Gosling's son in his grief out of his love for his son who he imagines has been shot, nor murders Cooper's son. 

And in the end, lighting out, Gosling's son, on his motorcycle, literally and metaphorically leaving the place beyond the pines for a place beyond that point, sets out to seek to make his own new destiny out of the soil of both his complex past and who he understands himself to be as evidenced in not getting imprisoned within the enclosing of the generational circle around him. In leaving and riding he is both his fathers and he is own young man too.

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