lost_river_1Year: 2014 (2015 release)
Director: Ryan Gosling
Writer(s): Ryan Gosling
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Digital, Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: A single mother is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town. (Source)

Lost River is an ambitious, deliberately obtuse misfire of hypnotic sight and sound – but I’m hesitant to call it a failure. For his directorial debut, Ryan Gosling’s made a film that isn’t likely to win acclaim from most who watch it, but is a sincere effort that shows his talent as an aestheticism who knows the power of moving image. As he searches for his own cinematic language through a myriad of influences, you can easily see how arthouse greats such as Malick, Argento, Lynch, Jodorowsky, and even Refn have informed Gosling. Yet his film doesn’t merely feel like brazen rip-off, but rather an effort on the cusp of something new. At the very least, it touches on how films can’t sometimes be relegated to just good and bad, and that the medium should be something that we allow ourselves to get lost in – that’s certainly not hard to do the way that Gosling challenges us to go deeper than what we’re seeing on screen. Oddly beautiful from start to finish, Lost River is a primal, haunting film that at least makes us feel, and it’s an admirable start that’s worth taking a dip in.

Set in an isolated and decrepit town (filmed amongst the Detroit ruins), the story involves a mother and son, Billy and Bones respectively, as they face the prospect of losing their house to the bank. Behind on payments, the pair go their separate ways to find a way to save their home, but there’s also an unshakable feeling that maybe it’s best for them to leave the decaying ruins of their small town anyway. At any rate, Billy joins a burlesque club where women act out theatrically gruesome, grotesque acts of violence and Bones scraps copper while falling in love with his next door neighbor Rat. Bones’ work forces him to cross into territories run by the tyrannical Bully, and it doesn’t take long before he finds himself on the run. In addition, he learns that his city’s downturn may be due to a curse which happened when a neighboring city was flooded to create a dam. The spell may be lifted if a “beast” is brought to the surface, and after Bones finds a path to the aforementioned underwater city, he has a choice to make.

lost_river_3Thematically, there’s so much that Gosling’s wants to touch upon, ranging from the fruitless pursuit of the American Dream, the decay of hope, the way women are viewed and treated by society, and even unbreakable family bonds. Gosling frames his ideas within an enigmatic fairy tale that is all about mood and atmosphere rather than clear-cut coherence, so while the film never suffers from a lack of ideas, it does feel like a progressively maddening experience, albeit an arresting one that’s hard to look away from. Where Gosling succeeds is in creating a world that is equal parts grotesque, otherworldly and at it’s heart, full of romanticism. Bottom line, there are plenty of films with more story that could never dream to achieve the truly bizarre tone poem that Gosling’s created here, and that has to stand for something at least by way of raw experience.

In many ways, Lost River is like a complex code without a cypher. It’s a successful marriage of technically gorgeous parts boasting Benoit Debie’s vibrantly hued photography and music from the Chromatics’ Johnny Jewel, which evokes an electric, energetic pulse. Eccentric ideas are brought to life from an eclectic ensemble ranging from Christina Hendricks, Matt Smith, Iain De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan and the always amazing Ben Mendelsohn, and though they aren’t characters as much as they are symbols, they’re a textual addition that is as entrancing as the rest of the film (even the legendary Barbara Steele is brought in for catatonic eeriness). It’s so rare to see a film that celebrates its own type of internal logic without bothering to explain the how’s or why’s and while it can admittedly be a frustrating experience, there’s something really piercing about the way it’s done here. Though I can’t recommend this film to just anyone, those looking for something truly different, will find it; I do have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll gain traction in the years to come, from an arthouse audience looking for trippy midnight material. As a bewildering experience, Lost River challenges us to dive deep, showing that cinema is an interactive medium, and that we get from it as much as we give; I for one, can’t wait to revisit this odd wonderland again.

SG