The Place Beyond the Pines (US 2012)


USA 2012. In colour and anarmorphic. Director Derek Cianfrance.

This film has received good reviews and appears to be doing well at the box office. A younger, savvy friend of mine suggested this to be mainly down to one of its stars, Ryan Gosling. Ryan Gosling also starred in Cianfrance’s earlier film Blue Valentine (2010) and I think the two films are the best of his performances that I have seen. In fact the two films cross over thematically in their stories of failed love and problematic parenting. I don’t want to write about the plot because the film contains one of the most impressive reversals that I have seen for ages.

The narrative comes in three parts or acts, separated by in each case by a black screen. Each part focuses on a different leading protagonist. But the plotting constantly draws parallels across time and space, in character actions, in settings and mise en scène and in the central themes, especially of fathers and sons.

Early in the film I thought we would end up in Rebel Without a Cause territory (1955). Then I gradually realised that the film is in fact a thematic variation of Steinbeck’s great novel, East of Eden. I think this is a conscious parallel as the film also reminded me of Elia Kazan’s great cinematic adaptation (1955). There seem to be numerous narrative, character and visual parallels between these art works.

Beyond the Pines was shot on Kodak film stock, and it looks great. There are many fine settings and landscapes and there is impressive use of a Steadicam and some excellent tracking shots. The parallels across the characters and their lives are reinforced by visual motifs. The most intriguing of these is the US Stars and Stripes. I did not notice one in the first part but I suspect logically there should be one. In part two a carefully framed shot draws attention to a Stars and Stripes as four men [policemen] leave a house on a dubious errand. In part three there are two shots of the flag at houses which seem mainly part of the settings. Then in the closing shot the flag is again discernible in the mid-distance. Two supporting themes in the film relate to gender and “race”, and these seem unresolved by the closure. However, the flag possibly signals an ironic and critical take on this aspect.

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