Paranoid Park

JANUARY 15, 2008

6.5/10. Gus Van Sant’s latest outing into the disaffected and disconnected world of modern American teendom is not as engaging as it might be but has much of interest, particularly when read in the wider perspective of his other recent work especially films such as Elephant.

Similar, in many ways, to the work of contemporary US novelists such as David Foster Wallace, Van Sant is attempting to convey something about the fundamental disconnection and alienation of modern (US) society – which is most sharply manifested among its youth. Here, for example, it is noteworthy that Van Sant almost never shows the faces of the Alex’s parents – Alex being the middle-class teen skateboarder protagonist. Instead he chooses only to have the mother seen from the back or out of focus in the distance, or to have the one scene containing Alex farther commence with a long shot of Alex while his father talks to him off-screen and unseen.

Furthermore, at a crucial moment, in Alex’s hour of need he thinks of calling his father (and uncle) but hangs up before they answer and subsequently brushes off his mother’s hesitant enquiries. Alex is equally removed from his girlfriend, who in one telling scene, after having sex for the first time with Alex (at her insistence) immediately phones her friend to share the information – the implication being that, as Alex perceives more generally, he is a means to an end rather than an end in himself (the player of the role of boyfriend rather than a person in his own right).

The one exception to this basic pattern is the relationship between Alex and Macy. From her first appearance Macy differentiates herself by a sharp insightful empathy. As the film develops her budding friendship with Alex moves to centre stage, providing the means for Alex to redeem himself via the one genuine connection he has in a lonely world.