Enoch has an unusual hobby: He visits the funerals of strangers. At one of them he meets Annabel, or rather she meets him, he, the teenage boy always dressed in black ("I don't have any bright colors", he says), shies away from the living, he prefers the society of the dead. But Annabel cannot be gotten rid of so easily. At another funeral she turns up and rescues him from an inquisitive funeral director. The ice breaks and the two run off together. It's the beginning of an unusual friendship and later romance: For these are two people in limbo, hovering between life and death: Enoch lost his parents in a car crash which nearly killed him, too. He is alive and healthy, yet has tuned out of life. Annabel, on the other hand is full of life yet death has a firm grip on her. She has cancer and only three months to live. Both tread that wasteland between life and death, both in different ways. And yes, they both need each other, one to learn to live again, the other to walk into death with her held up high. One need not go back to Love Story in order to detect the clichéd nature of this set up. But this is a Gus van Sant film and the master seismograph of youth works his magic once again.
These two wanderers between life and death have fallen out of time, in their state of limbo it does not matter, it might not even exist. In fact there is a third such wanderer: Hiroshi, Enoch's only and, of course, imaginary friend, the restless ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot in World War II, a wanderer in that nowhere land coming from the other side. A strange sense of time permeates this film, or rather a timelessness. Everything looks and feels old, as if already past. Enoch's clothes as well as Annabel's are from another time, or maybe none at all and the same is true for the interiors. Everything is half hidden as if by a veil, it is a world not entirely real as neither protagonist is truly part of what we like to call the real world.
Yet, in a strange way, what we see is entirely real, as, impossibly, these two lost souls orbit around each other, edging ever closer, before they collide in the tenderest and wholly unsentimental way. They may be in need of each other, but it is much more simple than this. They just fall in love the way teenagers do, for the first and undoubtedly the last time. All is serious and playful at the same time and the two actors, Mia Wiakowska and Henry Hopper (Dennis Hopper's son) play this in such a spectacularly unassuming as well as matter-of-fact way that none of the cliché-ridden turns and set pieces this most conventional of van Sant's films is full of, do not stick and cannot plunge it into sentimentality. There is a lightness to this film which is made even more poignant by the heaviness of the ever-present death. For this is not a "normal" teenage love story, it is a dance with death, which cannot deny being in fact a dance with life. And these two totally unpolished young actors lend this a credibility all too rare in Hollywood today.
The story itself is as predictable as it is well-known. The odd couple holding on to each other to teach each other the meaning of life, the complementariness of the life-death ambivalence in the two central characters, the breaking apart of the deal they have struck when Enoch cannot accept Annabel's imminent death, their coming back together in the end, all these are well-worn clichés. Danny Elfman's unceasing and often borderline sentimental music is not much of a help. In the hands of a lesser director, this would have turned into an unbearable tearjerker.
Not so with Gus van Sant: Repeatedly he adds little touches which recall this from the abyss of kitsch into which this film might have fallen. Hiroshi's ambivalent role helps keep it afloat and so does a good dose of irony and humor. The silly fun in the morgue or the horribly cheesy death scene which turns out to be just playacting tip this alway back on the side of life. Restless is a conventional story conventionally told and far from van Sant's most daring films, a minor work maybe. But even so, it is, nonetheless, a tender, touching and even uplifting story about the trials of youth and what it means to grow up that can only be told by an observer as keen and sympathetic as Gus van Sant.
11 out of 13 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.