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Restless drags as directionless lovers deal with clichéd themes

by Divstrongsimon Pinkous / Beacon Correspondent • October 6, 2011

, Beacon Correspondent/strong/div

divA boy and a girl fall in love, but in this tale, the girl has cancer and the boy is followed by the ghost of a man who died in World War II./div

divemRestless/em, directed by Gus Van Sant is a mood piece transparent in its attempt to harp on clichéd themes of life, death, and love. Writer Jason Lew tells the story of young lovers caught up in a preoccupation with death. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) stars as Annabel Cotton, a cancer patient with three months left to live. The story sticks to the plot points of your standard romance film except with a darker tone.  Annabel first meets Enoch Brae, played by Henry Hopper—son of the iconic actor Dennis Hopper—at a funeral./div

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The two cross paths again at the cemetery in which Enoch’s parents are buried. Enoch and Annabel have a playful exchange in which they include the parents’ presumed responses. They make light of this moment to a degree, which leaves both characters appearing unfeeling.

The moment in which Annabel confesses to Enoch that she has cancer keeps with the lighthearted take on death presented throughout the film. From this moment on, Enoch and Annabel begin falling in love, which comes across as sappy as it sounds.

Enoch, who is living with his aunt, reveals information about the loss of his parents throughout the film. We learn that, after a near death experience, he spends most of his time conversing with the ghost of a World War II Kamikaze pilot. By the end of the film, Enoch is forced to question his motives behind getting involved in a relationship with a woman who is about to die.

Lew’s screenplay is heavy-handed in its exploration of death through the use of dark symbols excessive to the point of humor. Although individually these moments are sweet, too many of them make the film reek of melodrama.

Annabel refers to herself as a “naturalist” and is fascinated by creatures that are associated with death. She remarks that when songbirds sleep at night, they think they aren’t going to wake up the next day, and that there is a species of beetle that starts families in the rotting body of carrion.

There are moments when the line between sincerity and satire is blurred, which lessen the impact of the film.  When Annabel and Enoch dramatically practice her death scene, they incorporate the symbol of the songbird into the dialogue. Her fake, old-fashioned-Hollywood style death scene, complete with sad music, seems to contain high levels of melodrama that would be seen in any other scenes in the film. The moment captures Annabel’s blasé attitude toward death, which is exaggerated to an unreasonable degree having her appear as cold to the touch. These moments are scattered throughout the film.

Wasikowska makes strong character choices giving Annabel poise and making her likable despite this insensitive nature. In a high point of the film, there is a sincere moment between the couple that takes place as the two play in the woods on Halloween. This is largely due to Wasikowska, who gives Annabel an imaginative bent, and therefore, dimension. Wasikowska’s thoughtful performance is as believable as it can be despite working with dialogue that errs on the sappy side

Hopper gives Enoch a child-like quality, which leaves his character appearing to be driven merely by teenage angst. His portrayal of Enoch leaves the relationship with no direction. By end of the film, instead of feeling emotionally invested in these characters, the audience feels as if they had been witnessing the growth of a meaningless relationship. Because of the lack of personal history that Lew provides Enoch, Hopper does not have much to work with when it comes time for his climatic breakdown scene in which he seriously reconsiders the motives behind his relationship with Annabel as well as his relationship with his aunt. Impactful moments in Enoch’s past are not presented in the forefront of the plot, which make his actions appear unsupported.

Gus Vant Sant adds a touch of class to the film, as it is visually interesting, using imagery to convery the innocence of young love. The varying levels of light help the film from becoming too dark. However, some of the scenic details as well as the costumes leave the film with a story that does not connect with any real time period. This makes some of the moments appear like magical realism rather than having a strong foundation in reality and the characters simply are not strong enough to remain grounded without those elements. While the film attempts to capture numerous styles and emotions, the attempts ultimately appear self-conscious which will get in the way of the enjoyment of even the suckers for romances.

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