Despite the subterfuge of the trailer, DW Mault glimpses the wood through the trees, in The Place Beyond The Pines…
An 11 year old recently said to me that if something isn’t comedic it’s inherently tragic. That is a near partisan outlook that I would normally encourage, but doesn’t quite sit well with the outlook of an aging father trying to escape his genes, all the while fighting against a fate that has been transcribed by the (Greek) gods, pace Gloucester: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods, they kill us for their sport.” Which means we are talking about the nature of drama, conflict, and of course Greek ideas of fate and pathetic attempts to outrun what those bad bastards have planned for us; their idea of a unified birth/death march.
Place Beyond The Pines is Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to his much acclaimed Public Service Announcement against the hollow contentment that called itself marriage: all the horrid problems and destruction of excitement, love/lust and adventure he showed us in Blue Valentine. Cianfrance is perhaps unique among young Anglo-Saxon directors in the sense that he seems aware of the possibility of what drama interlaced with cinema can achieve.
Perhaps we have only PT Anderson of Boogie Nights and Magnolia era to compare him to, but even then we have two very different artists. Where Anderson seemed full born an optimist who has slowly become more distrusting of humanity and it’s rat like cunning for survival and advancement; Cianfrance is a fully formed acolyte of Greek drama and necessary nihilism as a bulwark against any attempts for emotional violence against ourselves.
TPBTP is very much an ‘idea’ translated into the metaphysical – history itself as the development of this ‘idea’; in tragedy this antithesis is sublimated into a unity. Under this perspective things that had never before faced each other are suddenly juxtaposed, used to illuminate each other, and comprehended…
Which is why I say Cianfrance is a giant among pygmies for daring to challenge the safe orthodoxy of the infernal bourgeois safety net of marriage, and then move on to the idea that we are linked by a combination of genes, fate and past mistakes of our fathers. The film is one that takes its time; very much an inbetweener film that likes stillness and existence, all the while juxtaposed against the very idea of kinesis as escape. As Ben Mendelsohn says to Ryan Gosling: “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”
The film is a shape shifter that moves slowly like an oil tanker; it’s a Trojan Horse that seeks ideas, concepts and dramatic moments to an audience that expects (via the very disingenuous trailer) an ersatz version of Michael Mann’s Heat, with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper replacing Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. I’m sure there will be walkouts after close to 40 minutes (not for any reason that involved graphic violence), but those who leave will be making another in a long line of mistakes that has blighted their lives so far. So as fair warning, I would say if you have seen the trailer: ignore and forget it because that is not the film you are about to see.
The film you will see is one that subtly talks about the great unsayable in America, that of class and how rules of behaviour of classes are so very different. Added to this we have the notion of America being a cultural mongrel nation, where rich kids ape Tupac (without irony) and everyone else exists but for that chance that America gives all of its inhabitants: that of escape, change and adventure; those freeways that search and destroy our collective unconscious, and speed us away from the nagging idea that we have born to lose tattooed on our chest.
Can we outrun the sins of our fathers and embrace free will? Well TPBTP only asks, and does not tell, for it doesn’t know – as it should be when one talks about free will and fate; of course Nietszche says that “Out into distant futures, which no dream hath yet seen, into warmer souths than ever sculptor conceived, — where gods in their dancing are ashamed of all clothes, where all time seemed to me a blessed mockery of moments, where necessity was freedom itself, which played happily with the goad of freedom.”
Now, what more can be said or indicated than the very idea that necessity IS freedom; for that alone you should see this film and think about the ties that bind – to individuals, partners, institutions, etc; and what they mean and whether you ask for more than contentment, more than existence and more in everything. So I beseech you to live, to seek, to dream and not to yield for “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.”
Place Beyond The Pines is on general release from Friday