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The Eternal Father: Two Films by Derek Cianfrance


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By Christopher Sharrett.

I hesitated as I began this essay, chiefly because I came across some interviews with Derek Cianfrance, whose work is the subject of these remarks. What he has to say struck me as banal, or immature, or conservative, particularly in his expression of a yearning for the father, and the meaning of family ties. Closeness with other human beings is wonderful; in the instance of the family, the fact of patriarchal capitalism and its continued dominance in personal, social and political life is the issue with which we must concern ourselves. I have felt that Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), and especially his earlier film Blue Valentine (2010) (I have not seen his first film Brother Tied), to be among the few recent American melodramas offering intelligent critiques of romantic love, the family, and the idea of the father under patriarchy. That is, the father per se, and, as Robin Wood once remarked, the father we internalize in the form of the superego, and the father manifest in public authority. I decided to follow the very good rule of trusting the tale far more than the teller, thinking that Cianfrance’s intelligence is in his art. So I have the following.

What is most striking about Cianfrance’s films thus far (aside from their obvious focus on love, the couple, and masculinity) is their depiction of the “new normal” of American capitalism, the emphasis on working-class America, the misery caused by subsistence living, forcing people to resort to crime, or simply to see their lives collapse. I can think of only a few similarly-concerned films, such as Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River (2008), Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (2008), Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (2010), and at a different level of achievement, Miguel Arteta’s The Good Girl (2002), which, amid its misconceived deadpan humor, is an uncompromised story of the entrapment of the female by a worthless job in redneck America (the rightist or depoliticized male working class being, sadly, one of the more noxious manifestations of patriarchal capitalism), a subject handled most intelligently by Frozen River.

Cianfrance’s films are also notable for their low-key aspect, supplementing a sustained tone that is alternately melancholy or doleful. His uses of color and sound (including the carefully-orchestrated, subdued scores by Grizzly Bear [Blue Valentine] and Mike Patton [The Place Beyond the Pines]) are precise. What is important here isn’t Cianfrance’s commitment to realism (one could argue that his films are anti-realist), but his interest in the human subject, in matters of human concern. This might be seen as essential, perhaps even pedestrian, were the US cinema not so involved in values (if this is the correct word) antithetical to our individual and social health.

BLUE VALENTINE

BlueValentine-350Blue Valentine, a film which Cianfrance took years preparing (he deserves respect for his Stroheim-like commitment to detail and authenticity, asking his lead actors to live together, Ryan Gosling to work as a furniture mover, and many other demands suggestive of his commitment to his art), is a remarkably focused examination of romantic heterosexual love and the creation of the couple. Like the subsequent The Place Beyond the Pines, this film has a complex (but hardly new) narrative structure, moving smoothly from the ugly, turbulent present (shot in hard-edged digital) back to the “romantic” past (shot on Super 16 mm). The “past” and “present” footage are seamlessly edited, effortlessly shifting back and forth, assisting a major point of the film: the awfulness of the past of course affects the present, and romantic love (and sex as distraction) is clung to out of despair, as the reality of the relationship is denied, from its totally delusional youthful moments to the final emotional catastrophe, as words dissolve into babble and tears, the two subliterate people incapable of understanding the cause of their failure, the female at least taking steps to free herself.

What gives Blue Valentine its distinction is its expansiveness while staying within a narrative tightly focused on a couple. The story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) is an examination of the archetypal couple, although here within the context of desperate working-class life at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Dean is a high school dropout who struggles first with a job at a moving company, then as a housepainter. Cindy wants to be a doctor, but gets no further than a physician’s assistant—that sexism is an impediment to her becomes most evident when the doctor at the clinic asks her to share an apartment with him when he moves his practice. There is little question that her refusal of his advances brings her dismissal long before a drunken Dean shows up to harass her, punching the doctor in the bargain. The couple’s crisis seems very commonplace, thus representative.

-Blue-Valentine-Stills-blue-valentine-20980783-745-478The film is stunning in its sense of backstory, and the history of sexual politics that inform it. Cindy tells Dean “I don’t ever want to be like my parents.” The remark is sensible, given her father Jerry’s (John Doman, usually cast as a villain, notably in the superb TV series The Wire) sadistic torment of the mother (Maryann Plunkett) at the dinner table (“We supposed to eat this garbage?!”). Cindy queries her stricken grandmother (Jen Jones) about life with grandpa, hoping that the old woman will describe a halcyon time of romantic love somewhere in the past. But the grandmother holds out little hope (“I don’t think I ever found it” [love]). About her late husband, she says “He didn’t have any regard for me as a person,” which is obviously the problem faced by Cindy’s mother, and it becomes Cindy’s own predicament. Grandma encourages Cindy with words that sound nearly feminist: “You have the right to say ‘I trust myself.’” But the film questions whether the female (certainly the current working-class female), product of a depoliticized society where dependence on the male is still paramount within ideology, can exercise judgment, or merely function within the parameters established by patriarchy.

The female’s entrapment is nicely suggested in three scenes. The first is a moment where Cindy has sex with her other boyfriend, Bobby Ontario (Mike Vogel). They are in the rear-entry position (the male enjoyment of this—and of anal sex, but only with the female—always alludes to the basic but always-denied bisexuality/homoeroticism within male culture, and the male insistence on dominance). The act is very short, the sequence showing his sexual release and her basic discontent. She is surprised that he came so quickly (we might assume that this quick, compulsive act produced her daughter Frankie); we then see Cindy on the toilet, peeing and then cleaning her vagina, the not-so-joyful, quotidian acts reminding us of the biological foundations of sex and the female as passive “receiver” of male lust (the feminist joke that the male is no more than a “sperm donator” makes sense), as sex is thoroughly deromanticized.

Blue2The second crucial scene is the film’s signature moment. In the “past” narrative, Cindy and Dean are on the street at night in Scranton, Pennsylvania, another post-industrial town giving evidence of the American downturn, emotionally as well as economically. Dean tries to charm Cindy with his ukulele. They pause at the doorway of a bridal store. The door is set back in an alcove, the kitschy and rather outdated window displays of wedding dresses framing its sides, an architectural recollection of a dead phase of retail capital and small-town America. Cindy stands in front of the door, which has a small, heart-shaped wreath framing her head; she dances a little jig while Dean strums on his ukulele and sings “You Always Hurt the Ones You Love” (very true, because of uninterrogated notions of love, as we see here). There is a strong hint of self-knowledge in the scene, especially when we consider what Cindy has said about her parents, and our observation of the dinner table scene. They seem to know that romantic love is finished, but is a myth, like so much else in postmodern civilization, that must be clung to anyway (they have too little education and too few resources to consider something to replace it, typical of the whole society). What is crucial is Dean’s directing of Cindy—he tells her where to stand, at what tempo she should dance. This little moment may encapsulate the entirety of their romance during the delusional early days of courtship. But it is fully representative of the male, at least the type of male Dean embodies, who, for all his posturing, is tremendously insecure, always intimidating Cindy with aggressive word-game questions that amount to psychological torture. Sad but everyday episodes—such as the death of the family dog—become reasons for verbal assaults by Dean, causing Cindy to cry. The everyday is deformed, of course, so that the slightest mishap is a reminder of deeply-felt, constant misery. Yet Dean is sentimental, and is often the very embodiment of the romantic (a part of the problem), versus Cindy, who for all her own delusions has some practicality, and is the one who ends the relationship.

blue-valentineThe other Dean/Cindy moment underscoring the woman’s predicament is the night, in the “present” sequence, in the sex motel, which holds no interest for Cindy. Dean selects the Future Room, a garish, thoroughly awful example of American notions of the fantastic (a whole city, Las Vegas, was built to honor the same concept). The room, which Dean calls a “robot’s vagina” (notice that the allusion is to the always-deadly female body), has a sci-fi motif lit in a deep, ghastly blue, the walls trimmed with metal, a huge picture of the moon in the background. The décor works well, since it establishes that Cindy and Dean have already seen their future, and it is dreadful. Their sexual activity is brief, and filled with aggression on Dean’s part. The sequence, which the film returns to several times in the past/present intercutting, is notable for its profound sense of claustrophobia. Cianfrance shot virtually all the “present’ scenes very tight in, to suggest a sense of suffocation, versus the “past” sequences which place Cindy and Dean in a larger visual context, with hope held out, yet always undermined by the nature of the setting (a dark street at night, an empty urban bridge.) Dean tries to create a mood at the Future Room by playing “their” song, a Motown-like tune called “You and Me” (“…nobody baby but you and me”). But another song acts as counterpoint non-diegetically, the superb torch song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” about the self-deception of romantic love. The moment dissolves. Cindy takes a shower after awkward and unfulfilling sex with Dean. Dean gets drunk—alcoholism is a major issue in the narrative, for Dean and Cindy, alcohol used, as always, as a form of self-destructive anesthetic. Dean’s dissipation is notable, a signifier of the decay of the marriage. Although he is hardly middle-aged (we must assume, since their daughter is still very young, that no more than a decade has passed between the “past” and “present”), Dean’s hair is receding, he looks blowzy, and much of his charm is gone.

Cindy is late for work, as she thought she might be, after the disastrous sex motel escapism; the episode is a preamble to her dismissal, after she refuses the doctor’s advances and a drunken Dean arrives to try to convince Cindy to stay with him, resulting in the crazed dust-up that is the proverbial final straw.

The Abortion Clinic

The film’s most problematical moment is the scene in the abortion clinic. The couple has decided to abort the fetus that Bobby Ontario put in her. But as the doctor begins the procedure Cindy changes her mind. This could certainly be seen as a “pro-life” moment, given Hollywood narrative cinema’s difficulty in representing positively a woman’s control over her body by carrying out this act, saving her own life and preventing more unwanted children from being born (the most egregious example of Hollywood’s blithe affirmation of child-bearing is the despicable Juno [2007]). One could argue that the procedure is simply too upsetting for Cindy, but isn’t it always so portrayed, and isn’t that the way conservative men (and women who imbibe their ideology) want women to perceive it? Cindy’s refusal also works to cement the relationship—in the very worst sense—since the couple needs a rationale for continuing a relationship that has no evidence of a positive future. Read this way, Cindy’s refusal fits the narrative’s logic—there is no basis for this relationship beyond Dean’s insistence that he somehow “knows” Cindy (Dean’s black co-worker [Marshall Johnson] at the trucking business suggests, wisely, that Dean “get some pussy,” so that “all that mental-ness” will go away.) The real must be separated from the ideal (it never is).

“Apocalypse Now”

The ending of the film complements the beginning, with both sequences containing moments from the “present.” At the opening, we see a little girl alone on the edge of a large, unmown lawn, calling for her dog. There is a cut to a shot of an empty suburban road at twilight, then an image of a discarded toy horse. At the end of the film, Dean strolls outside of his in-laws’ home, accompanied by his daughter, who then runs toward Cindy. It is dusk, as in the opening shots—darkness is used to start and end the film. Cindy picks up her daughter and walks toward the camera as Dean walks down the street toward some people setting off firecrackers in celebration of Independence Day, that most peculiar holiday recalling the separation of propertied white men of the colonies from Britain, as the new nation proceeded with a genocidal program against the native population, the enslavement of kidnapped blacks in support of its economy, and the subordination of women in all personal, social, and political matters. Dean can take part, halfheartedly it seems, in this minor revelry since there is nothing left for him. The fireworks prompted Cianfrance to remark jokingly (on the DVD commentary) that this was his Apocalypse Now moment. What he accomplishes here conveys a far greater sense of hopelessness and despair than Coppola’s absurd spectacle.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

movies-the-place-beyond-the-pines-still-3Most reviewers have made much of the triptych structure of Cianfrance’s most recent film, and especially the sudden death of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), the apparent hero, about a third of the way into the film, reviewers alluding to Psycho by way of comparison. What is most startling here is the apparent unfamiliarity with literature evidenced by the remarks, since any number of works change focus, abandoning characters and locations. And the shock of Marion Crane’s death is certainly not on the order of Luke Glanton’s (and not nearly the same surprise, especially given the loose-lipped media of the present). But the comparison with Psycho might be apt on one level. The first half of Psycho is, of course, not the huge red herring once argued by reviewers (quite a long time ago to be sure). The repression/neurosis embodied in Marion and Sam Loomis might be seen as Norman Bates in a minor key, that is, the essential mental illness that is the consequence of bourgeois civilization. The film implies that the ultimate consequence of repression is Norman, a vulnerable young man driven totally mad by the demands instituted by the assumptions of so-called normativity. (The clearest connection between Sam/Marion and Norman occurs in the exceptionally bleak tryst that opens the film, with eros poisoned, and Sam complaining that he is “tired of sweating for people who aren’t here”). The “Norman story” completes Hitchcock’s meditation on repression, and the “AJ/Jason story,” while not exactly completing The Place Beyond the Pines (since the implication is that patriarchy’s awful impact will continue forever), gives us a clear understanding of all that has gone before in the narrative. The ending might be seen as nihilist, especially if we take seriously Cianfrance’s sometimes mawkish comments on fathers and sons. Or it might be seen as embodying a “negative aesthetic” (I have some doubt about this, which is why I see it as a lesser achievement than Blue Valentine), suggesting that there is no alternative to patriarchal capitalism in sight, although the evidence provided tells us we surely need one.

the-place-beyond-the-pinesAttention to the film’s title is sensible. It is the English translation of the Mohawk word Schenectady (the Anglo-Dutch approximation of the Mohawk word), the name of the upstate New York town where most of the narrative takes place. But there is more than one translation to “Schenectady.” It can be read as “near the pine plains,” or “on the side of the pinery.” In short, Schenectady can be seen as an open space that is free of the threats of the forest, or a place where one is most vulnerable to one’s enemies. My impulse is to say that “the pines” suggest a barrier—which Schenectady certainly is here—preventing one from having a fully-realized life. Given what the film does, I think the title’s connotation is dystopian. (Before we leave the title, a thought or two about the annihilation of the Native population may be helpful, if not to understanding the film, then to our humanity.) The way Schenectady is photographed implies the same level of ambiguity as the title. Some long shots show the spires of the town in late afternoon, when it looks like a pristine Our Town. But when Cianfrance makes use of the town at street level—such as when Luke takes Romina and baby Jason to a grubby, barely-hanging-on ice cream shop—the emphasis is, as in Blue Valentine, on poverty encroaching on the working-class. Schenectady is yet another working-class town that has seen better days due to its abandonment by industry—recent public relations fliers tell us that gentrification has it “coming back” (Luke’s friend Robin says, “The whole town’s gone to shit”).

130328_MOV_PlaceBeyondPines.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeLuke is a daredevil motorcyclist with considerable narcissism, underscored in the first shot of him, focused on his “buff” nude torso laden with tattoos suggesting a primitive eroticism (that attracts many but eludes me). He plays with a ratchet knife during the scene. He entertains his death-wish with cycle stunts at the local carnival, seasonal work emphasizing a desperation mostly concealed behind Luke’s strong, silent façade (the strong silence, with occasional mumbled diction, may instead be read simply as illiteracy, like Dean in Blue Valentine). Luke reunites with his girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes), discovering that he has a baby son named Jason. That he is just now learning of his child is a measure of his indifference toward the female, of which Romina is well aware, making her reluctant to introduce Luke to Jason, especially since Luke will no doubt be hostile (he is), given his volatile temperament, to her new boyfriend Kofi (Mahershala Ali). Luke’s secret attendance at Jason’s baptism brings to the fore his sense of desperation. As the Lord’s Prayer is recited (one of the basic invocations of patriarchy, authority, and the union of the community under both), he sheds tears. Luke’s insistence on seeing the boy and creating a bogus family (even though Romina has a partner) is a measure of his constant aggression as much as his alienation. He is deluded, thinking that Jason needs him; his rationale is that a boy needs his father, arguing that he never spent time with his own, “and look what happened to me.” Given what the film tells us as we consider this scene in retrospect, what becomes of males is due as much to a father’s presence as his absence, and the male has plenty of impact by his absence (what Jason learns about his dead father is largely the myth of the outlaw [“the good things”] as transmitted—with genuine affection—by Robin).

ben-mendelsohn-dirty-carRobin (Ben Mendelsohn) is central to Luke and the film. He meets him during one of Luke’s hell-for-leather motorcycle rides in the woods (making “the pines” less a place of sanctuary than self-destruction and, as we see later, murder or near-murder). The moment conveys a sense of mystery—and poetry—that distinguishes Cianfrance’s films. The two bikers observe each other, the film cross-cutting to capture the extreme high speed of the cycles, as the soundtrack goes silent. We then see Luke observing Robin from a bluff as Robin calls to him from his truck, parked near a muddy pool. The two men essentially cruise each other. Ryan Gosling’s skills as one of our potentially strong stars/actors are apparent: he looks at Robin impassively, his gaze containing a wariness and vulnerability cherished in the cinema during the rise of the youth counterculture (more about him in a moment). In later scenes, when the teenaged Jason (Dane DeHaan) visits Robin in pursuit of his dead father’s history, Robin is photographed to appear moribund, his face nearly a death mask marked by grease, looking sickly under the fluorescent light. Ben Mendelsohn is superb in incarnating a character whose significance is vast; he as much as anyone is the last vestige of the Place Beyond the Pines that was America. This is not to suggest that Luke encounters the Grim Reaper when he meets Robin. Rather, the two men embody the fading of masculine eros and American prosperity, but Luke doggedly hangs on, arrogance always the true delineator of the American grain.

After their first meeting, Robin offers Luke work in his tumbledown garage. Realizing clearly their financial straits, Robin introduces the idea of bank robbery, thinking, based on his own past experiences, that a few quick thefts followed by disappearance will leave them unscathed by the law. Luke’s “skill set” as a high-speed biker serves the pair well, but Luke’s anxiety, his profound alienation, makes him overdue it, causing his confrontation with and execution by policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), at which point the narrative shifts.

ryan-gosling-shirtless-in-place-beyond-the-pines-exclusive-still-05There is an immediate connection established between Avery and Luke—Avery’s drops of sweat mingle with Luke’s blood. At certain moments it seems to me that Avery is photographed so as to resemble Luke. The narrative shift involves, in part, a focus on class: Avery is several rungs above Luke’s status, a lawyer and son of a famous judge, but Avery opts to be a policeman. He is therefore a better-placed, savvier version of Luke. His killing of Luke is the work of a nervous incompetent, yet Avery is also headstrong and ambitious, qualities linking him to Luke. His killing of Luke and wounding during the confrontation soon turns him into a “hero.” As Avery’s father Al (Harris Yulin—was he ever not cast as a villain?) wisely tells him “the hero card is the only one the police have to play.” Avery’s campaign to clean up the hyper-corrupt police and judiciary system of Schenectady (one can certainly read the town at this moment as America and its cities in microcosm) is driven far more by ambition than idealism—it starts when Avery is denied his promotion for his heroism and is instead relegated to a property room in the basement of the police building. He takes on the vicious Deluca (Ray Liotta, another eternal screen villain whose casting perhaps codes the character too much) and his cop pals (they are noteworthy not just for their criminality but their sexism and racism, reminding us of the nature of the enforcement apparatus). Deluca’s derision of Avery’s wife (“does she tuck her balls up at night?”) after his fawning behavior at the dinner table (where he doesn’t try to mask his hatred of blacks, assuming that all whites feel the same), reveals the face of white male officialdom. That everyone seems to support Deluca, including the smooth, polished District Attorney (Bruce Greenwood, who, fittingly, portrayed JFK in Thirteen Days) makes clear the expansiveness of Cianfrance’s indictment. Avery begins his ascendancy, at his father’s advice, by using his one friend, Scotty (Gabe Fazio) in a sting operation. There is the strong sense, as Avery assumes a hand-tailored suit and high political office, that the new regime will be like the old.

place-beyond-the-pines4Avery’s nature is made clear when he brutalizes his son A.J. (Emory Cohen) in the final “sons” narrative of the film. The segment begins at Al’s funeral, which, as in The Godfather, is the moment when the young heir takes his throne, the death-stench of patriarchy refusing to go away. Avery’s wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne) complains that A.J. wants to stay with his father, and is behaving badly. Although the boy was apparently shuttled back and forth between parents, there is the sense, for the moment at least, that the mother is an incompetent parent. A.J. seems to me a wholly repugnant character—he is thick-set, slurs his diction with a heavy (affected?) Long Island accent flavored with hip-hop slang, and bullies other boys into obtaining drugs for him. More peculiar is A.J.’s almost total lack of resemblance to either parent (this is in contrast to the quiet, unassuming teenaged Jason, who is completely recognizable as the son of Luke and Romina). I should qualify my remarks here, since I do not feel that A.J. is some bizarre “bad seed,” and his dissimilarity to Avery and Jennifer is totally at the physical level, suggesting perhaps his distance from uninterested parents. He may be seen to be absolutely the son of Avery at the level of self-centeredness and brutality, physical and psychological (we note Avery’s cruel throttling of A.J.—he clearly dislikes the boy—when he learns that his son has been up to no good with Jason, the death of whose father still fills Avery with guilt, an earmark both of his incompetence and ruthlessness).

Some reviewers have complained about the chance confrontation between the cop Avery and the outlaw Luke, and the later chance meeting of A.J. and Jason, feeling that the moments are contrivances. I can see the complaint, and am a particular foe of the “everything-is-somehow-connected” strategy in postmodern screenwriting, which now excuses screenwriters from depending on coincidence in resolving issues. But in the case of The Place Beyond the Pines it seems to me that another attitude is in play. The point is that anyone, at least any male, could have shot down Luke and the resulting narrative would have been the same, given the assumptions of patriarchal capitalism and the male drive for success. The meeting of Jason and A.J. might be a contrivance, but we have been asked to see Schenectady as an insulated town, a fish bowl where privacy is impossible (certainly not with police forcing their way into one’s home at a whim).

place-beyond-the-pines5One of the crucial features concerning A.J. and Jason is literacy, a topic basic to teen films, where high school is totally unimportant as a site of education (notably so in last year’s Project X, where high school is, at best, a site for types of self-annihilation). A.J. is subliterate, a devolved young person whose coarseness and insensitivity are badges of honor. Sadly, these characteristics make him so representative of the present day. His brutality may be the best evidence of this, well-learned from his father even though he is a throwaway child, the child as status symbol of middle-class life. Jason, by contrast, embodies curiosity; he is inquisitive and insists on knowing his true history—it isn’t a stretch to say he wants the truth of history in general, a particularly sad quality given the implication of the film’s denouement, with Jason buying a motorcycle, then taking off—the cycle in time, so to speak, will go on. Even so, one can see a note of optimism in Jason’s departure from Schenectady, and perhaps a note of hope for his social class as well, while Avery and his class, for all their triumphs, are on a downward turn.

The-Place-Beyond-The-Pines-20What is most affecting about The Place Beyond the Pines is the decision not to make Luke and Avery monstrous, and in fact to give them noble qualities (the same cannot be said of the patriarchal world surrounding them). The film produces a genuine sense of anguish and loss, of potential destroyed, conveyed at every level of cinema from mise-en-scène to sound design. It is unfortunate that women are marginalized—Eva Mendes’s Romina is especially superb. To watch her decline over the years from alluring, self-possessed (but easily seduced) young woman to haggard “housewife” concerned with survival is remarkable, a notable achievement by Mendes. But the film’s real warmth (not surprisingly) is saved for men and the male group, the most compelling moment being Jason’s meeting with Robin, who wants to assure the boy that his father was a good person, that the cops were the bad guys (when Robin refers to Avery as “the pig that shot him” we get some cold water in the face, the sense, common really, of the permanent underclass’s perception of “the law,” in fact revealed here as a monstrous fraud.)

The Place Beyond the Pines lacks the concentrated focus on personality of Blue Valentine. But this may have been difficult given Cianfrance’s focus in the new film not on personality per se but more on the human subject as signifier of a large and complex reality, an arena he sketched in Blue Valentine. Both films are significant contributions to the contemporary commercial cinema. They are, for the most part, additions to the male melodrama, that distinguished subgenre of the old Hollywood.

On Ryan Gosling

Blue Valentine, Drive, and The Place Beyond the Pines make me think that Ryan Gosling may be among our more gifted star-actors. God knows we need him, since most contemporary stars have almost nothing to offer and are immediately forgettable. The industry seems undisturbed, the current audience likewise. I’m tempted to make dumb remarks comparing Gosling to Brando, Clift, and Dean. Gosling doesn’t have their range or intensity, and his compelling performances depend mostly on projecting emotion with his face and body, his voice being fairly monotone. But showing human emotion in any way is an asset today, when human feelings are replaced by exploding metal, or distorted in feel-good “dramedies” about near-perfect family life. It is no wonder, after having to accept rubbish like Gangster Squad to keep working, that Gosling has taken a break from acting. Let’s hope he returns, and in vehicles that develop his talent.

Christopher Sharrett is Professor of Communication and Film Studies at Seton Hall University. He writes regularly for Film International and is a Contributing Writer for Cineaste. As he finished this essay, he listened to the late-60s pop-rock duo Friend and Lover, known for their one hit song “Reach Out of the Darkness (I Think it’s So Groovy Now, That People are Finally Getting Together),” notable for its bad writing and extraordinary naïveté. Yet this naïveté is affecting even now, as one recalls a time when young people thought that simply loving one’s fellow human being could solve the world’s problems (why not?). But the youth counterculture of the US needed some political lessons, and the young of today might attend to Chris Marker’s masterpiece Le Fond de L’Air est Rouge (1977).

Read also: Jacob Mertens, The Place Beyond the Pines (2012).

2 Comments for “The Eternal Father: Two Films by Derek Cianfrance”

  1. This is such a brilliant article. It makes me want to go back and look at these two films again. “But showing human emotion in any way is an asset today, when human feelings are replaced by exploding metal, or distorted in feel-good “dramedies” about near-perfect family life.” ‘Ain’t it the truth, girl! I always look forward to reading your work. You write about many different types of films but you always bring a feminist perspective to the table, along with an interesting and informed view of race and class. Brava!

  2. Christopher Sharrett

    Thank you much, and thank you for reading.

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