'Paranoid Park' a Dark Digression Of Memory

Photo: kick, push, coast. Director Gus Van Sant's latest film follows a young skater who becomes entangled in a grusome crime.
Ifc Films/Courtesy
kick, push, coast. Director Gus Van Sant's latest film follows a young skater who becomes entangled in a grusome crime.

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If Gus Van Sant's last feature, 2005's "Last Days," can be understood as a cubist portrait of waning time, then his new film, "Paranoid Park," may be described as an impressionistic sketch of subliming memory's weight. The film revolves around and inside of Alex (real-life Portland skate kid Gabe Nevins) and his cluttered head as he narrates his skating and selfish (read: adolescent) way through the film. It is an insistently subjective film. Yet, given its thin narrative, "Paranoid Park" is less about plot and psychology than it is about its own construction. The problem the film faces comes from Van Sant's artistic Achilles heel: His work relies, all too often, on psychological explanations and resolutions. But one would be wrong to call this film a failure. Its aerial glide through time is a lovely movement (of bodies, of mediums, of understanding); a literal chronicle of memory as a flame.

Alex writes his story, regarding the role he played in a grave crime and the plastic wrap its consequences hold about him, in a journal at a weekend cabin near the Pacific Coast, outside of Portland. The story orbits a solitary weekend trip Alex takes to the Paranoid Park of the title: a gritty skate arena built under overpasses by devoted and defiant (and sometimes homeless) Portland shredders that holds the promise of thrills and the threat of violence. The story and the film digresses, allowing Alex to work over his fear of the memory while giving Van Sant time to build associations across the loose-thread timelines so key events' repetitions shift their meaning. But "Paranoid Park" is not a puzzle to decipher. "Paranoid Park" is a mood, an idea. As Alex's friend Jared (Jake Miller) says, "Dude, nobody's ready for Paranoid Park." But they go anyway. Like the film itself, the park is an odd conglomerate of slopes and flights and skids and scrapes and circles. This is how these boys (and some girls) live: every moment, every day throwing themselves, heedless and stupid, into perpetual motion.

Shot mostly in delicious 35mm by Christopher Doyle, the film interposes non-narrative street skating segments in grainy Super 8 and fish-eyed digital video, keeping the visual form's movement ardent and dynamic. Van Sant edits in his increasingly elliptical style, which suits the half-pipe (back-and-forth, up-and-down) logic of "Paranoid Park" and its adolescent setting. Like many teenagers, Alex lies to himself as much as to his getting-a-divorce parents (if he even talks to them) and slumps, sullen, when he's not on his board, moving in the world. He would rather visit Paranoid Park alone than hang out with his horny girlfriend (Taylor Momsen's Jennifer is a perfect, bitchy cheerleader).

Unfortunately, Van Sant connects some of the dots for us, as when Alex's dad apologizes for the split with his mother. Luckily, a few times, the exposition gets a laugh: Talking about his motives for avoiding Jennifer, Alex narrates, "Jennifer is nice and all, but she's a virgin, which means she'll want to do it." This lead us to understand Alex thinks this is a bad thing because he's afraid of relationships ending. However, Jennifer's insistence, of course, leads to sex. Then to a break up. Shot from an oblique angle behind Alex, with all dialogue drowned out by Nino Rota's "Juliet of the Spirits" score, we watch Jennifer's look change from excited to perplexed to furious to over it while the score accents the pathos and blithe irony of all youthful splits-of all youth, it seems Van Sant is saying-it hurts, but it passes.

Pop a nollie hardflip with Ryland at [email protected]

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