I’ve had the hardest time coming up with the energy to post something. It’s been longer than a month, and I’m still having trouble. I’m having trouble concentrating—I’ve been reading the same book for almost three weeks, which is a really long time for me. So I’m just gonna start rambling—
Over the last month I’ve seen, let’s see—Drive and Martha Marcy May Marlene. It’s hard to find people who want to watch the same movies I do. Maybe I’ll just head to the BAM on an afternoon by myself occasionally. I’m becoming sort of a snob. Someone will say they want to watch a certain movie and I’ll give them a look of distaste and ask, “Oh God, why?”
Drive: I am in the middle of a pretty intense man-crush on Ryan Gosling. Man-crushes are weird. I mean, you’re not quite sure how appropriate your feelings are—it’s definitely not exactly the way you might feel about having a crush on a girl when you were a teenager, but in many ways it’s very similar. You get a little tingly whenever you see them. Your head becomes light. It’s not that you wanna hang out with this person and grab a beer. You want to cut out photo collages of them and hang them on your wall. I had a conversation with two male friends about how exactly, if we were hypothetically interested in kidnapping Ryan Gosling (he lives in Brooklyn), how we would go about it and what we would do with him (a lot of it involves watching The Notebook). The conversation lasted for at least three minutes. Maybe I’ll stop talking about this.
I thought Drive was a good movie. I really dug the music, and watching Albert Brooks slice people up like Steven Segal, even while delivering his customary stream of verbal nebbish-ness. Some Swedish guy directed it, so yeah it’s weird as hell, but when you get down to it Drive is old-fashioned film noir. The plot could have been lifted from the 50s—it involves good (or at least relatable) people involved in criminal activity, tragic accidents of fate, violence, and a powerful sense of fatalism. You never think it’s possible at any point for people to escape their fate. The strange trappings of the direction and editing put you at a little bit of distance from the characters, so I never quite became as emotionally involved as I have with some of the truly great examples of noir like Double Indemnity. But it hits every beat successfully. If this were a 50’s movie the Ryan Gosling character would be James Dean, Carey Mulligan would be Donna Reed, Bryan Cranston would be Spencer Tracy, Ron Perlman (the critic for Salon had a great line for Perlman—he referred to him as an ambulatory Easter Island head—ha!) would be Edward G. Robinson, and Albert Brooks would be—hmm, hard to say. George C. Scott?
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a first-time effort from the director, and these types of things tend to be tricky. Back in the ‘80s first-time directors often made noticeably sloppy movies—the editing was off, the cast didn’t seem to be in sync with each other, the framing was weird, etc. Those problems seem to have been overcome in 2011. Maybe it’s because even first-time directors can get so much experience with cheap digital film, but whatever the case, almost everything that gets put on screen these days, even by novice directors, is tight and well-organized. Marlene definitely is. The creepy premise—girl runs away from a cult to her sister’s beach house, and there is definitely something wrong with her—keeps you interested for the duration.
There is one crucial element that the audience needs to interpret properly for the film to work, though, and I don’t think the director gives us enough to make an interpretation. The missing element is the mind-set of the runaway, played really well here by Elizabeth Olson (sister of the Olson twins). To what extent does she remember what happened to her, and does she truly understand what happened? And has her confusion carried over to the present day? This is a fascinating question, and the final shot of the film, which involves a serious ambivalence about the nature of a certain car which is following the main character, is all about that one question. But we haven’t been given enough material to decide for ourselves. Too much other stuff takes precedence early on, involving violation of social norms and even a standard horror-movie element. The mix could absolute have worked, but it’s just slightly off, and ultimately the movie never properly comes together.