I have often said that I am not a Gus Van Sant, and I've often had mildly humorous, disparaging things to say about him. I've slowly come to accept that my opinion may be a bit harsh, and very premature. I say this because I'm basing my entire opinion on his lengthy career(which includes 14 feature films, and many short films and music videos) on only two movies; Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and his pointless Psycho remake. Beyond that, I can honestly say that none of his films interested me in the slightest. I've seen parts of My Own Private Idaho, and I can appreciate his influence and attraction to others, I've just never thought he was for me, nor have I ever had the inclination to test that theory. Until last Sunday, that is, when I happened to channel surf over to the opening of Paranoid Park and, well, decided to test that theory.
The movie grabbed me fairly early on, with it's drifting camera, dreamy music and fractured chronology. The movie's timeline jumps around a bit, taking a roundabout path to the story. This is more than just an overused stylistic trick, though, as the jumbled timeline reflects the mental pathways of Alex, the teenaged main character, as he documents recent events in his journal, building up slowly to the main tragedy in the film. It's clear very early in the film that Alex was involved in the tragic death of a security guard on some railroad tracks near a popular and infamous skate park(the Paranoid Park of the title), but we don't actually see this event until near the end of the film. Alex is writing his journal as a letter, an apology that no one will read, and he isn't ready yet to face the death head on, he needs to circle around it as he tries to make sense of it.
In a way, Paranoid Park is a perfect, if extreme, metaphor for the lives of every teenager. Alex is drifting, and feels, like most of us do/did, as if he's incapable of forging his own life, and is instead at the mercy of forces he doesn't understand. In reality, he's making decisions even when he doesn't realize it, and by the end of the film, although the future looks wide open, a large part of his life is already written.
Paranoid Park hasn't exactly made me a Gus Van Sant convert; Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is still an inexcusable piece of excrement, but it has made me think I should maybe go back and catch some of his more well regarded films, just to see what I'm missing. That said, I still reserve the right to make fun of the fact that middle-age, openly-gay Van Sant found his cast by cruising skate parks and myspace for teenage boys. Seriously, how creepy is that?
Rating: 4 out of 5