Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lost River Review

It isn't every night. I can't really say how often it happens, but occasionally while attempting to succumb to the serenity of the silence and the comfort of my bed I think about how jealous I am of the younger version of me. There was a time when instead of my mind racing due to stress, it was reaping the benefits of a blossoming imagination. Instead of seeing society through a cynical set of eyes and fearing the unknown, I was off somewhere building worlds from the ground up. I was hopeful of discovering the impossible and finding a way to make it possible. 

I used to dream of literally flying above the earth majestically and I would wake up feeling relaxed and free. I once swam down into my subconscious through an underwater world and I can still recall the vivid detail my mind created out of nothingness. While I still feel young as I approach my 31st birthday, I close my eyes each night only to open them soon after with nothing to analyze in between. Sleep is mandatory and a welcome escape from a hectic and frustrating day but I miss the transition from real to surreal. Lost River made me feel like I was dreaming again.

Premiering last year at the Cannes film festival, I remember eagerly anticipating the first wave of reactions after the debut screening of Lost River and when they came, they hit hard. Reports of aggressive boos came flooding out and they garnered a special level of attention due to the director, the handsome slice of sexy that is an absolute star in front of the camera yet completely unproven behind it known as Ryan Gosling. Some may hear about such angry reactions and then notice the low approval ratings on an aggregate site like Rotten Tomatoes and instantly write a film like this off, but I have learned my lesson in this regard. Two years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn unleashed Only God Forgives at Cannes and it was met with a similar, unfortunate response from critics and audiences alike, and yet I consider that work a masterpiece after three viewings. Therefore, I approached Lost River with a feeling of cautious optimism.

Once again I am left puzzled by the overwhelming negative response of a Cannes failure because I quickly fell victim to the dreamy, magical spell cast over me by Lost River. One of the main complaints I have noticed from the films detractors is that it doesn't really have an original idea of its own, that Gosling borrows heavily from previous auteurs such as David Lynch or the aforementioned Refn and it is impossible for me to argue this point, yet it didn't trouble me in the slightest. While his influences are apparent, Gosling directs the hell out of this film and clearly has a confident, gifted eye behind the camera. Constantly throughout the movie I was picking up on the true detail in a frame, the usage of color and light going on in the background and to say I was impressed is a major understatement. 

I wasn't so much swept away by the narrative of Lost River, although I also don't think it is a flaw like many have made it out to be. It was without a doubt the technical achievements of this film that sprinkled their fairy dust over me early and often. Director of Photography Benoit Debie brings such vibrancy and life to the picture with the neon hues that make even the most normal set piece feel a bit surreal, and the musical score by Johnny Jewel perfectly suits the material, as its enigmatic and haunting tones pulled me in a little deeper and danced through my ears long after the film was over. 

Inside the setting of this film lies a misogynistic underworld that is without a doubt haunting, but the authenticity of these characters normal lives was the aspect of Lost River that I truly can't shake. I often see the world solely through my own eyes, selfishly ignoring that there are real places just like the location presented where real people live. Homes torn down, a displaced community that is treated like a lesser form of life and talked down to by far more fortunate people. It's a difficult pill to swallow. They casually discuss the possibility that losing their way of life might be a blessing in disguise as if the American dream awaits elsewhere, as if a drive south down a highway will lead to more aesthetically pleasing circumstances. Lost River tells the story of those people who aren't pursuing the American dream, but rather prefer the normalcy and familiarity or their surroundings. These aren't the people that lost their way because of a recession but rather those that never truly found their way in the first place. 

The people in Lost River are real and they are out there, struggling to survive because at any moment their lives will literally be torn down in front of them. Ryan Gosling takes their sympathetic tale and delivers it as a fantasy neo-noir, and his vision should be celebrated rather than admonished. I can only hope the negativity that surrounds his debut effort doesn't dissuade him from continuing to explore his potential even further. 

Later tonight before I close my eyes I will hope to drift off down Lost River as I sleep. If Gosling is available to direct what resides in my subconscious, sign me up.



  1. I've never even heard of Lost River! I should add it to my long list of things to see. :-)

    1. It was well known last May when it premiered and people literally booed it, but it is finally just now being released in some theaters and Video On Demand. Honestly, if this was directed by a no name first time director it would have gotten some praise, but for whatever reason the fact that Ryan Gosling directed caused a fire storm of hatred.

  2. Great synopsis, Scott. I really want to watch this film now so I can form my own opinion of it. It is unfortunate it was not well received.


    1. Thanks Sharon, I appreciate that. When you do see it, let me know what you think. I expect many will disagree with me, but I find it hard to believe critics don't at least admire how well made it is.