11 April 2012

The Rules of Attraction

The last time I saw any portion of The Rules of Attraction was years ago at the house of a friend who was 'obsessed' with the fast-edited Victor's European Trip portion of the movie. And rightly so, it still astonishes me.

What surprised me, rewatching the movie last night, was how I was sucked into the rest of this aggressively creative movie, adapted and directed by Roger Avary -- the typical Avary qualifier is that he was an early QT collaborator and shared an Academy Award for the Pulp Fiction screenplay, but I prefer ex-con on manslaughter charges. It's more sensational. Like that chapter in Avary's real life, Rules of Attraction is both intensely tragic and fascinating. It's the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation the writer has called his fav from his own work, and he says comes closest to capturing cinematically his literary tone.

The movie's texture is very human, and there's an effort to limit the amount of sentiment. Take for example the character Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon), a virgin college freshman who browses the VD section of a medical book before parties, as a way of discouraging herself from hooking up, and is torn between wanting to give it up to Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) or Victor (Kip Pardue). She's a sweetie character, easy to love. What happens to her we know, we experience at the film's beginning, and it's a sad thing. I think other movies might have emphasized the ultimate sadness of her story by plucking those strings continuously through the movie, but this one doesn't, and I like this method because in my life I don't know when I'm involved in a complex and nuanced tragedy until later when I have the answers and encase the event in a narrative. The effect of Rules of Attraction's method is I the audience feel closer to Lauren's experience because it resembles the tragedies of my life (for reasons given) and my experiences being young and in dumb blind love. Not every moment leading to a sad moment is another sad moment, and the texture of a sad moment in real life is often more complex than purely sad.

Depictions of harmful attributes within protagonists are often criticized when they appear in a movie, if there isn't some device that levels the scales, some element that allows us to sympathize with the protagonist. Imperfect characters are judged, often, just as in real life, and the character possessing destructive or dangerous qualities is labeled flawed, maybe deplorable or vile. Ellis and Avary created characters that have narcissistic and antisocial qualities, vacuous tendencies, and fractured morals. I the audience was sometimes shocked by the creativity of their selfishness. Whether people should be this way or not is a separate conversation from the one about people being this way, including us sometimes (if not these negative qualities than others), and the people around us whom we interact with and form relationships with while we cross fingers behind our backs. Sometimes I think moviemakers needlessly punish characters for being themselves or for being in the movie of the moviemaker. I don't think Avary is punishing anyone for being in his movie.

Avary and Ellis know that those with ruined hearts suffer still, and continue to drift from their dreams of happiness. It shouldn't be overlooked that the characters in this movie are each in search of some form of togetherness or something like romance.

As a piece of cinema there's much to admire. One Saturday morning sequence begins with Lauren and Sean waking up, in their respective rooms and in split-screen, and follows their rituals and routines as they make their way to a class. They meet in the hallway, in split-screen, and have a conversation while I the audience make eye contact with both of them.

Culminating twin tracking shot to make single shot

Another time Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) imagines himself doing something to Sean and the screen splits to show both the imagining and Paul's actions during the imagining. I like this use of split-screen. The movie's camera is smart, sharp, and fast all throughout, and there's a high number of stylized shots and well-constructed sequences.

The performances feel authentic. Avary did an impressive job at coaxing these professional actors away from their safe zones. These characters feel more like 'people' than 'actors,' and you don't always get that, especially in a movie populated with younger stars. They sometimes go all the way and expose themselves in daring ways, but in a way that feels pure and unaffected, so if I the audience feel embarrassed it's for the character, not the actor.

Great script, great camera, great performances. This is a triple-threat great movie.

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