At SXSW: Ryan Gosling’s ‘Lost River’ tells a nightmarish fairytale
In the town of Lost River, mostly destroyed by fires and bulldozers, its citizens have all but abandoned the rules of society.
Bones (Iain De Caestecker) lives with his brother and his mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks). Bones spends his days searching for scrap metal to trade for parts for his car. In the house next to him, Rat (Saoirse Ronan) lives with her grandma (Barbara Steele) and works to keep her happy. The town is ruled by Bully (Matt Smith), a self-proclaimed king who kills his opposition. Another bully comes in the form of Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), a shady bank operator who takes Billy to a dark underworld, leading Bones and Rat to investigate more about a spell cast on the flooded town nearby.
“Lost River” has managed to leave me equal parts confused and bewildered after its North American debut, and the final product is honestly not what I expected it to be at all. This film is for the one percent of film fanatics who enjoy more artsy and metaphorical films, which is not to say that it’s bad for people who don’t like artsy films. It’s a hard film to recommend, but it has more than enough substance and greatness. Ryan Gosling doesn’t knock it out of the park, but his first project is certainly more ambitious than most filmmakers’ first efforts.
Ryan Gosling is good friends with Nicolas Winding Refn, the genius behind “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” Through their friendship and partnership, Gosling has picked up similar traits of Refn’s, which he uses differently.
Gosling uses natural light in the film to counter the bright neon lights illuminating this fairy tale.The heavy use of music to convey emotions is in full effect, with old-world jazz and new-age synth balancing between the two worlds in play. Ever-present blood and violence are more charms of “Lost River,” highlighting the degradation of society and reinforcing the nightmarish feel. Much of this is up to interpretation, but there’s no denying that Gosling would rather focus on the characters’ reactions rather than have them say all of what they feel.
The world that Gosling creates in this film is hauntingly beautiful, as much of the film was shot in the destroyed neighborhoods of Detroit. The cinematography is breathtaking, as the audience is taken under the water to the lost city and through the nightlife with bright neon colors. Gosling went for as little light as possible, only hoping to use natural light, and the result is a look that emphasizes the bleakness of the city. The only reason his characters have stayed is because they’re attached and ruled by their own fears of protecting the ones they love.
Iain De Caestecker embodies the acting chops of a young Ryan Gosling, with slow and careful speaking and all the meaningful looks he gives. Bones’s care for those around him is immediately noticeable and his willingness to help them shines through with all he risks. Much like De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan speaks with her facial expressions and says more than anyone else in the entire film with them. From concern, to fear, to love, Ronan does a terrific job advancing the feelings of love in the grim world.
Christina Hendricks perfectly portrays a woman trapped against her will but who is still willing to risk everything to provide a better life for her children. Her eyes shed the most tears and most of the hurt the audience feels derives from her performance. In smaller parts, Matt Smith and Ben Mendelsohn each bring forth their own forms of evil that fit for the world they inhabit.
Gosling shows an extreme amount of care for the characters and the film, but it feels like he didn’t entirely know how to piece it all together. He employs a lot of metaphors that you can follow, but they’re displayed in short, quick scenes that come off as being poorly edited. The film in its entirety isn’t all that coherent, and the audience is still left to scratch their heads about certain images and sounds that are given no context.
“Lost River” is going to appeal to a very niche group of film lovers because his style is comparable to the films that he’s done with Refn. The scope of the project is big, and Gosling does great for his first time directing, but it’s clear that he still has things to work and improve upon. The amount of love in this film is what stood out the most, and you’ll find examples of it all through the film. Words can’t express the astounding beauty of the film’s cinematography, and that’s all thanks to Benoit Debie (who worked on “Spring Breakers”). Johnny Jewel’s score is fantastic and guides you through the ruins of this world.
Most people aren’t going to respond well to this film, but I’d say give it a watch and be prepared to think about it. That’s what I did, and as a piece of art, “Lost River” is something special.