When I went to journalist school, they always said that we should write articles like you would draw a fish. You start with a hook. That’s essential. Without the hook – no reader. Then comes the head. That’s where you get the jest of it.
Ideally people will follow you through the body of the article to enjoy your elegant finish, the tail. But don’t count on it. Most of them are fine with just heads.
The beginning is everything in journalism. Of course books and movies are different entities than articles and the fish model doesn’t quite apply there. Nevertheless I think you make things quite a bit easier if you offer something remotely tasty from the start, something that tickles you in some way and raises your curiosity.
Gus van Sant apparently doesn’t agree and won’t cuddle with the viewers, tricking them to get involved in the story of Paranoid Park.
Super 8 film
After showing the credits in front of a bridge, which takes ages, we get to watch a teenage boy writing in a book and having a stroll close to the sea. We assume that this is the guy the movie probably is about, but we’re still pretty much clueless about anything. There’s no hook so to say. That’s when the skateboarding starts. There’s a several mintues long sequence of a super 8 film, picturing unknown people riding skateboards, while you hear a voice whispering something you don’t understand, more than it sounds like French.
That was the point where I lost my 17 year old. No matter how I begged her to give it a chance, reassuring that the movie would start “Really Soon Now ™”, she wouldn’t believe me. “This movie sucks”, she said bluntly and walked away.
Such a pity! Because in the end it turned out to be a fantastic movie, which I think she could have enjoyed, even including its slower parts. I figure sometimes the fish swallows the hook and you won’t get across it until you’ve eaten your way through the head. Those movies just require some patience.
There was so much to love in this movie: the photo, the music, the editing, the non-linear storytelling, which feels like peeling onion all the way, layer after layer, until you finally reach the core.
Most of the time Alex, a teenage boy who carries the world on his shoulders in the form of a secret he can’t share with anyone, shows a blank face. Van Sant isn’t over-explicit about what’s going on in his mind, but somehow we figure it out anyway. We see it in the images, we hear it in the score; we can sense it as we watch him taking an endless shower or walking to the beach.
Not a crime story
While we’re vaguely wondering about if he’s secret will be discovered or not, and won’t know until the very end, this perspective isn’t the essence of the movie. It’s not a crime story; it’s a story about the struggles of a young soul, about his loneliness and alienation, which I think many people who are or ever have been a teenager can relate to.
I think Paranoid Park could work fine for an audience such as my 17 year old and her classmates. I can imagine how it would spark discussions about morals, about guilt, about the rift of distrust between the adult world and the world they live in and how you could overcome it.
It would work if it only wasn’t for the whispering French voices. I still don’t get what that was all about. Not that it matters to me. I loved it. And since I haven’t yet seen Gerry, Elephant or Milk, I’d dare say that I probably have a lot to look forward to.
Paranoid Park (Gus van Sant, US, 2007). My rating: 4,5/5