Monika Gimbutaitė – Restless
Gus Van Sant is famous for his films about youth (“My Own Private Idaho“, “Good Will Hunting”), in which he perfectly reveals their problems. Teenagers in his films are confused, without having any idea what to do with their their lives and the struggles they have to suffer. His latest film „Restless“ tries to combine two most common themes in history of art – love and death.
“Restless” is a love story about two typical Van Santian characters – young, sensitive and troubled people, who are way too familiar with death for their age. Annabel (M. Wasikowska), a girl with brain cancer, meets Enoch (Hopper), who likes to attend funerals of strangers. They don’t have enough time, yet they both try to deal with a fact of death and experience together as much as possible.
Annabel loves nature, she idolizes Charles Darwin and always talks about bugs or birds. Even though she is the one who is going to die, Annabel always tries to see the bright side. Her positiveness and smiling all the time can seem unrealistic and even artificial but this is her mask and her way to deal with grief. Contradictory, Enoch is sorrowful and gloomy after loss of his parents. At the same time he is both fascinated and scared of death. By crashing random funerals and talking with his imaginary friend ghost Hiroshi, who was kamikaze in Japan, Enoch desperately tries to understand the nature of death and reveal it’s secret.
Besides the fact that main characters have to face death in their lives, shadows of death are paranoidly following viewers during the whole film. Story takes place in autumn, when leafs are in ”colors of death”. Annabel tells a story about songbirds that sing because they didn’t know whether they‘d wake up in the morning. Couple goes to morgue and guess what happened to people there. Talking about death is always precarious and it is obvious that in this case “Restless“, written by young screenwriter J. Lew, lacks subtlety and starts to speculate with emotions. It seems that by constantly repeating the same message in different forms and aspects authors nearly forgot other themes. Maybe too much time was spent searching for artfully framed shots (that are actually really good) and looking for retro-vintage outfits for actors before fully finishing and fulfilling the story.
While watching a film it‘s hard to get rid of a feeling that main characters are like perfect paragons – one-sided, predictable and that’s why pretty boring. They are not as complex as in Gus van Sant previous films, where characters had more than one problem and also more than one topic for conversation („My Own Private Idaho“, “Good Will Hunting”). It must be mentioned that actors did their best to give some warmth to their characters, although Hopper sometimes seems unsure of himself in his first lead role. That might be the reason of his eaggertion and overacting in dramatic scenes. Wasikowska (“The Kids Are All Right”, “Jane Eyre”) is always strong even if her character here is way more monotonous than Hopper’s.
If you watch “Restless” as a typical romantic drama, you shouldn’t be very disappointed. Even though a love story is not very special itself, actors do as much as possible to convince the audience. Listening to indie music and watching a cute couple might be quite nice, especially as you still don’t realize that their relationship basically is just a happy montage of skating, fencing, bicycling and running through fields
The strangest thing is that we can’t actually see any symptoms of Annabel’s disease. Her body doesn’t change even during the last stage of cancer. In ”Restless” death is shown more like an idea or a concept, denying what cannot be denied. The scene in which characters rehearse Annabel’s death (which turned out to be their own version of “Romeo and Juliet” ending) is not so different from the death that is shown in this film. An idea of sterile, painless and over romanticized ending of life is too far from reality and faulty itself.
“Restless” gives an impression of schematic and dishonest film, where life flows by somewhere between sentimental flashbacks. It seems that Gus Van Sant is lost between mainstream compromises and his ambitions as independent director, which is the reason of making film about death without real death, film about feelings without real feelings.
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