Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

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John Cope
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Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

#1 Post by John Cope » Mon Jun 01, 2015 1:49 am

Loved this despite its apparently horrific reputation. I can see why people wouldn't like it as it can certainly seem self-indulgent but can't the same be said uncharitably about so many great films if one were so inclined? Gosling's reference points and sources of inspiration are also clear and self-evident (Lynch, Korine and Green, Malick, Refn, even Philip Ridley and Beyond the Black Rainbow) and I'm sure that irritates many or is seen as some kind of failure of imagination. But he's not trying to hide those influences. It's the tone and the surrealism, the specifics of high style expressionism, that Gosling picks up on and makes use of, not any particular image he lifts. That's a more rarefied territory so it stands out and is more recognizable. Nobody complains much when somebody makes an obvious "thriller" or "drama" or what have you because we've all become used to that far more familiar form and apparently expect little else. Go off book and people are made irate by your daring to do so.

And Gosling makes it his own by focusing on his narrative and his characters and the fairy tale form of it all. As such the weirdness does not come off as indulgence to me but as a necessary accoutrement, an expressive aspect of that form (because it's not a particularly radical film in that sense--the narrative arc is clean and clear, the intercutting of certain scenes to heighten tension or intensify meaning is also a standard device employed well here). And, what's more, the meaning of the symbols and tropes is also clear and obvious but sublimated to the flow of the form. In that way those obvious meanings work on us incrementally, cumulatively, in a fresh and profound reaching way. This isn't just another Lynch knock off in which stylistic flourishes are applied indiscriminately like a lacquer varnish; it's clearly about when and how and why to do it and that concentration really does save this and elevates it above the fray.

It takes real guts to do what Gosling has done here and to pull it off as well as he has, guts and commitment as well as the ability to pull it off and I respect him for it. The heavy emphasis on tone via the visuals and music also elevates this to another level in which the tropes and ideas are taken seriously via the aesthetics. As I mentioned above, the movie isn't really all that radical in terms of structure; it's almost even classically structured as well befits the classic fairy tale form he's dealing in here. Beyond that, again, the meanings seem clear enough (like the bloodletting acts at the club being metaphors for exploitation), even elemental, but Gosling gets away with that because he doesn't overemphasize them. All that stuff is actually handled in a kind of removed, indirect sort of way, becoming a part of the flow and texture of the whole piece. For that reason, we can take their connotations seriously without feeling brow beaten by them. So many glorious images here and such a great score too, all complementing the masterfully measured dream like quality and the film as dream aesthetic.

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david hare
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Re: Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

#2 Post by david hare » Mon Jun 01, 2015 2:26 am

Bradshaw (whom I loathe) gave it a very bad rap last year from Cannes. Your comments above now encourage me even more to see it. Thanks!

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Re: Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

#3 Post by al.worldcinemaguide » Mon Jun 01, 2015 10:26 am

Great analysis and I agree that it seems like in daring to try and present something original Ryan Gosling has been chastised by a lot of critics for wearing his influences on his sleeve. Some of the imagery is truly striking but for me the film's problems lie elsewhere, in its script and under-developed characters. Nevertheless I hope we get to see more of Ryan Gosling behind the camera.

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Re: Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

#4 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jul 11, 2015 6:09 pm

It was sort of inevitable that I was going to have to see this film as soon as possible, so here goes!

I'm with John Cope on this one. If it is a failure, its the kind of failure we need to see more of. If it is appropriating pre-existing imagery, it is taking inspiration from the right sources. It is a textural, elemental film: fire, water, glass surfaces, rotting wood, graffitied walls getting smashed, lush green overgrown areas being reclaimed by nature, antiseptic and sterile gleaming modernist rooms to escape from reality. It's like a found art piece clashing with a highly controlled one. It starts almost fly on the wall and gets steadily and forcefully more abstract as it goes deeper into the underworld, or the characters' internal psychologies. I also loved that disturbing slow push in zoom that turns up at certain moments, usually with the threatening character of Bully.

It feels a lot like a film about impermanence. There's no safe haven from destruction or decay. Even those seemingly with cash and status in this society have a freemason-style club devoted to grand guignol stagings of beautiful women getting murdered in various stylised ways. There's almost a compulsion that the people around our otherwise refreshingly down to earth main characters have in facing death and destruction down, as if they cannot exist apart from it. It makes our central characters seem perversely normal in trying to exist in a world gone to bad seed (no wonder there is the suggestion that there is an evil spell placed on the town dating back to when the previous town was flooded for a reservoir).

While our main family and the girl next door are struggling to simply keep existing, everyone else is locked away in their own fiefdoms. They all have their domains, from the bank manager's grand guignol club to Bully's overgrown ruined building, to the grandmother's living room. Even the taxi driver has his front seat. Our main characters aren't being allowed that space to feel that they can own and belong in. It is always being violated and intruded upon by the other characters who just cannot seem to help themselves from being violent and intrusive, just because they can. Or don't see any problem with it. (It is also why our main character's desperately impulsive reciprocal scrap raid on Bully's compound is such a beyond the pale act that he has to pay for)

There is the nice sense that the film is suggesting the importance of a location to the people who live there and the memories that a home contains. It isn't just "a pile of bricks" as the information film downplaying the relocation of the population of the "drowned towns" as the girl next door puts it (as if they were living things that were killed in the name of progress), but at the same time a home can become toxic or surrounded by corruption all around that eventually forces a fight or flight response. In some ways being tied to a place, or having any ties, seems as if it is going to end up being a liability to be used against you, and not just in terms of paying a mortgage off.

I also loved the structure of that final section of the film, intercutting our three main characters all reaching their individual crises simultaneously but devastatingly separate from each other. That impressive juggling of imagery between the three scenes was extremely well handled, reminiscent a little of Requiem For A Dream. Or the action sequences at the end of Star Wars films! (On that note of comparison to blockbusters, could Lost River potentially be the best film featuring dinosaurs to come out this year?)

The entire cast is great but it was particularly nice to see Barbara Steele in there. Her role might be wordless but she gets kind of the emotional core of the film, the still living ghost sort of emblematic of the entire town in being trapped in a past trauma, and it feels like a fitting role for a horror icon. It is also a Miss Havisham kind of part, which also throws a Great Expectations-tinge onto the central love story too. This is also where the Philip Ridley comparisons also apply, with its isolated, mourning woman being watched by children. Also for the film's tentative relationship between the younger characters in an almost, albeit tinged with violence, love triangle at one point. And the sudden bizarre imagery that ends up feeling emotionally perfect.

Film reference wise I know Nicolas Winding Refn and David Lynch are brought up a lot, even Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green in the outdoor scenes, and there is a sense of similar imagery here, but the imagery is so beautiful in this film that even if it was borrowed it is still highly potent. But I ended up thinking of many other films, not just the obvious ones: Northfork in the flooded town or even Nicolas Cage's New Orleans set film Sonny for the prostitution angle. Mike Figgis's Liebestraum. Lars von Trier's Element of Crime. There's a really beautiful Guy Maddin-type vibe to the film too. Maybe allusions to the final scene of Zabriske Point too in the last shot of the firey timbers of the house. Or Playtime in the snowdrop style streetlights. Or Escape From New York in Bully's car-throne. Not to mention the blatant Eyes Without A Face reference in the stage act and even the plastic surgery style transparent mask. I'm also glad I'm not the only one to think of Beyond The Black Rainbow in the sci-fi styled plastic coffin fetish room scene! (If getting inside a restrictive moulded coffin were the only way to isolate myself from someone doing a terrible 'dad dance' at me I'd desperately try and lock myself in there too!)

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Re: Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

#5 Post by knives » Mon May 02, 2016 9:31 pm

I guess I'll third the praise here, though not as well as everyone else. This movie is shot so strangely during his scenes I have to admit I didn't even realize that was the Doctor as the villain until about an hour in. That said I'm genuinely surprised and happy to find out this is a fairly grounded, in that bizarre yet sincere Canadian fantasy fashion, take on the financial crisis with well sketched characters and a long take on the situation that often gets lost in these films. In light of Sono's similar (down to lake symbolism) Himizu I can't fully back such a messy film, but it still serves as one of the most interesting premiers in a while and one of the best (North) American films of the last few years. Just to run with a small example of what best works here Billy's choice to work at the horror show parlor at first stinks that it might just be an excuse to replicate that one scene in Mulholland Drive (which is the last Lynch comparison I'll do since this really has more in common with Korine, NWR, and Canada then him) but quickly ties into the theme by becoming a secure way to go down the typical stripper storyline without becoming the sleaze that is suppose to indicate. The method to the madness here is definitely its best feature. I really do hope that Gosling gets another chance to explore and develop the voice he is showing here. Also how wonderful is it to have Barbara Steele in a movie again?

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