There is a palpable sentiment of trying to capture the ephemeral that runs through Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, a film that further modulates his now familiar aesthetic of melding abstract episodes of hypnotic time drift with the alienated portrait of imploding, angry youth that have characterized his more recent films (beginning with his Béla Tarr epiphany film, Gerry). Based on the young adult novel by Portland author, Blake Nelson, the film follows a cherubic, teenaged skater, Alex’s (Gabe Nevins) process of writing a diaristic letter to an unknown recipient (later revealed to be a classmate and casual acquaintance named Macy (Lauren Mc Kinney)) at an overgrown lookout near a desolate sound. Unfolding in often repeating, time altered flashbacks that recount Alex’s suppressed, traumatic experience – and moments of pure bliss – surrounding his consuming, but reluctant obsession to visit Paranoid Park (an abandoned industrial site that was transformed into an advanced skate park by homeless, thrill-seeking kids), that are juxtaposed against images of his upended personal life as his separated parents (Grace Carter and John “Smay” Williamson) attempt to reassure him of their undying love and support despite their impending divorce, and his flighty, cheerleader girlfriend, Jennifer (Taylor Momsen) continues to pressure him to have sex, the film is an airy and swooning, if delicate and friable tone piece that strives to give form to an adolescent’s subconscious awareness of passage, moral consequence, and impermanence that comes with the process of maturation. In a sense, his parents’ vain promise that everything will be the same as before becomes a sobering reinforcement of his own realization of its consequential impossibility after a reckless, life-altering experience. It is within this consciousness of irretrievable time that the impressionistic, swooning slow motion images of skaters riding the concrete waves of Paranoid Park become an intrinsic reflection of Alex’s own impressionable psyche – a naïve representation of his own desperate, unarticulated desire to manipulate time and return to an enchanted place of blissful innocence and fanciful imagination.
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