Gus Van Sant, who’d forayed from his explosive Indie beginning (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho) to mainstream Hollywood (To Die For, Good Will Hunting, Milk), – and here's a rarity – circled back with his acclaimed ‘Death Trilogy’ (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). His explorations of teenage subcultures, disaffected youth, lost innocence, normalization of violence in the American society, homosexual subtexts – elements which have featured in all his Indie works – were palpable in Paranoid Park as well; however, the deliberate distancing, heavy formalism, ennui and such thematic/stylistic similarities have made some cinephiles propose reclassification of ‘Death Trilogy’, which this immediately followed in terms of release too, into a tetralogy. The film’s title refers to an illegal skatepark in Portland, Oregon, which provides the melting pot for an underground, marginalized and loosely connected skateboarder community. Alex (Gabe Nevins; the amateur cast, including him, was apparently found via MySpace) is an emotionally alienated high-school student existing in a state of flux – he’s unaffected by his parents’ ongoing divorce proceedings, he’s indifferently going through the motions with his vacuous girlfriend whose prime focus is in losing her virginity, he responds to the US’ intervention in Iraq disinterestedly; he finally experiences a sense of euphoria when he gets introduced to the grungy skatepark; the comment from his closest buddy, “Nobody's ever ready for Paranoid Park”, however, proves oddly ironic, when he gets embroiled in a gruesome incident involving a security guard. Understated lyricism, loopy and disjointed narrative, deliberate arthouse tropes, an ending that was overly abrupt, pervading sense of torpor and inaction punctuated by an uncharacteristically grisly moment, defined, for me, this intriguing and low-key, albeit half-baked and tad directionless, coming-of age film.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Teenage Drama/Coming-of-Age Film