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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 2:30 am 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
mfunk9786 wrote:
A quick note re: the ending:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
The song is Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die" - between the lyrics at the beginning of the song and the title, I cannot think of a better combination of a song and the context in which it appears to conclude a film. It's so perfect, in fact, that something tells me Dolan made some creative decisions (changing the mother's name, or the shot choices in the final scene, or both) so it would fit even better once he decided upon it.


Absolutely! It's difficult not to cry a little at the perfectly timed cut to black with the lyric "Feet don't fail me now", celebrating the hung moment of the character left in mid-stride off the ground, even if simultaneously recognising the utter ridiculous futility of the escape attempt in any situation where that scene continues! Similar to everything else about the film there is a dismissive reading of the film that it could just seem like a succession of music videos, but there is an obvious sensitivity there towards all of the musical cues being very important almost as a structuring element to the film and not just slapped on there as a generic track that could easily be replaced by anything else. The whole film feels tailored towards specific pieces. Its as if those chapter break interstitial moments from Breaking The Waves were not just pretty breaks from the narrative but were actually driving the narrative themselves!


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 6:57 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
I haven't been able to stop thinking about the film for the last couple of days and I wanted to do a post about the three main characters, as that might be the best way to understand them as all being understandably sympathetic as well as having human flaws too:

Diane or "Die" is pretty obviously the main guiding character of the narrative of the film, and her plight is central to the whole drama. Her plans for the future seem so practical, just to get through crisis after crisis, yet she also gets the ultimate fantasy of a future life never to be in the 'faux ending'. I like the way that the film seems framed through the loss of the car in the opening (Erin Brocovich-styled) accident on the way to pick up Steve from his juvenile detention centre, and then the lack of a car is a present feature throughout the film with bus trips, taxi rides turned abusive, shopping bag disasters on the walk home (though that itself leads to a meeting raising potential romantic angles and another way out, until Steve intervenes!), and then the eventual return of the car at the end initially seems like the greatest liberation for everyone to go on a road trip, but its actually the end of the fantasy of Steve and his mum living together.

Die does seem to have that ability to exist in the world, and to be as sneering, cocky and downright abusive as her son (which kind of touchingly shows how much Steve truly is his mother's son). Blunt and direct but also occasionally too blunt. While Steve goes overboard in all the wrong places, and attacks (mostly) all the wrong people, Die seems mostly able to modulate her responses and save her most withering put downs for those that truly deserve it (as well as recognise Kyla's decency), but in that most brutal argument scene between Steve and Die - the one about where Steve got all the food from, that he obviously stole it, and to take it back, which escalates into verbal abuse and eventually brings the neighbour Kyla into the scene to sort of defuse the situation - whilst Steve is obviously showing the most scarily violent behaviour, Die's responses also sort of escalate the situation by feeling slightly condescending and slightly too victim-like to seem real. "You're scaring Mommy", "You must calm down" and so on, which are probably the worst possible things you can say to someone on the edge of rage and who isn't feeling like they are being listened to! Contrasting with the usual dynamic between the pair, and Die's interactions with other characters, which are more combative on the surface but less angry, this argument feels like an interesting exception of showing Die trying to defuse a situation but failing badly at doing so.

Die is a wonderful character, flawed but fiesty. Perhaps eventually proving the case worker at the beginning of the film who she dismissed correct by being deluded in thinking that she could take care of Steve by herself (but she came so close in the face of both practical day-to-day quotidian challenges and deux ex machina events from the past coming up to threaten to destroy the family all over again, and did all the hard work that was just about to pay off with mutual respect. That's the tragedy of the film), but she at least tried. Though like those aspect ratio changing moments of transcendence, was even making the attempt worse than not even trying at all, and lighting a spark of hope that was snuffed out all the more thoroughly for having briefly been kindled?

But the ending after Steve is 'returned to custody' shows how this is as devastating for Die as it was for Steve. That her hopes and dreams have disappeared and she is left alone in an empty house to wonder if she made the right choice or not, and of course will never truly know if she did. (Something about the separation of Die, Steve and Kyla at the end feels reminiscent of the fates of the characters in Requiem For A Dream, albeit slightly lower key!)

___
Then there is Steve, who is the hopeful but impulsive element, full of potential but also unable (and unwilling) to hold himself in check, even when doing so would work in his favour. He is introduced kind of like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, with the case worker describing his violent acts whilst in detention, the latest of which was seriously burning another boy's face in a deep fat fryer, scarring them permanently, for which he shows no remorse (and Die herself doubles down on this attitude and doesn't care either!). There are scenes of mother and son together where they seem in sync together even against the approbation of the wider world (such as son bumming a cigarette off his mother, where even though Die does say its a terrible habit, she still shares it with him, much to the shock of onlookers, who receive a bit of abuse in response to their disapproving looks!), and there is a feeling that they are better together as a team against the world.

But the intensity of that relationship leads to problems of (usually sexual) jealousy and feelings of being unloved in Steve. In a way the appearance of Kyla defuses a bit of that uncomfortably close mother-son bond, especially the sexual element to it, as Steve kind of transfers that interest towards the, very similar in age to his mother, neighbour! His forwardness is uncomfortable in those early scenes, until things come to a head with the teasing necklace stealing scene mfunk described above which causes Kyla to wrestle Steve to the ground, reframing their relationship quite drastically, and even shockingly causing Steve to apologise for his actions after a bit of sulking! He's a lot more respectful to her after that, almost becoming a model student, albeit one mostly seen in archetypal scenes where he is pointing to a book in delight while his homeschooling neighbour looks on appreciatively!

Then there is that scene of Die, after the man Steve disfigured makes a claim for damages against him, buttering up the potential romantic interest into perhaps getting Steve off the hook. I find this scene really interesting because it feels both simple and slightly cliched, yet also feels quite nuanced too. Die is practically using the romance as a way of solving their problems, and if it means having sex with the guy then so be it. Needs must. While Steve ends up reacting badly, his jealousy cutting off his (terrible) karaoke performance in mid-flow to fight an onlooker, immediately confirming his violent tendencies to the guy and then confronting the guy about wanting to sleep with Die, so he ends up abandoning them. So Die is about to sully herself for a noble, self-sacrificial reason, whilst Steve prevents that but seemingly only because of his own jealousy.

Perhaps Steve is the one coming to terms with becoming a monster, and saving his mother from having to become one. Maybe the reason he reacts so violently to Die's assumption that he has stolen the food in the fridge is because her opinion is the only one that matters to him, and he doesn't want to see her being submissive to anyone, neither him or someone else on his behalf. That seems to spiral him into a depression of feeling unsure about whether his mother loves him or whether his presence is destroying her. But I don't really think that Die and Kyla think to 'return him' until Steve does his impulsive suicide attempt in the middle of a store. I think that threat to himself more than to others (Die and Kyla seem to be able to calm Steve down, much as Steve provides Die with a reason for living and Kyla gets over her stutter too) is the reason for giving him up for the treatment. Yet by signing him over to a repressive prison-style regime Die and Kyla do kind of fundamentally betray Steve. There's a great moment of Steve in the car as the orderlies approach that I sort of wanting to play out in a low key manner of him just accepting getting locked up as the inevitability that was always there. It gets drawn out enough that it is almost a possibility, but then it is as if Steve knows that he has to try and escape, scream and fight as if to live up to the expectations of all those surrounding him, spoiling for a fight or wanting the comfort of knowing that their decision was the correct one. But the violent putting down of him is too much for Die and even Kyla to bear, becoming unnecessarily harrowing for them to witness.

I kind of get the impression that we're seeing the origin story of a comicbook supervillain here (or a Hannibal Lecter character. Albeit very low key, almost as low key as the supervillain origin story in Unbreakable!), with that feeling of betrayal sort of confirming all of Steve's worse suspicions and perhaps leading him to even more extreme behaviours without that relationship in his life any more. After all, that's the loss of the one person (or arguably two) in the world he cared about and respected enough to listen to. Without that, what's left but violence, lashing out and regular escape attempts?
___

Then there is the neighbour Kyla, who is kind of the audience surrogate (the onlooker to this abrasive, unorthodox mother-son relationship), but then again isn't quite that. She's mostly seen through the eyes of Die and Steve. Die seems to see her as emblematic of a 'normal family life', with a husband and kids. Steve finds her problematically sexually attractive, being too uncomfortably touchy-feely in the face of this seemingly passive woman, stuttering under the yoke of a rather distant and implied to be controlling husband (though is that just because we are seeing the action from the perspective of people a bit cautious of 'nuclear families' and wanting to see the husband as controlling and the kids as constantly interrupting and pulling Kyla away to deal with them, rather than being there constantly for Die and Steve), until she reframes the relationship and becomes more of a mentor to him.

Kyla is sort of a conduit in the film to allow Die and Steve to relate better to each other using her as a medium. She'll be able to help with childcare and let Die go off to attend to other matters. She'll be there to support Steve in his ambitions, and there to support Die when Steve is taken away. But in that amazing final scene between herself and Die, there is the suggestion of guilt there for having abandoned both of them to return to her own family in the wake of the relationship between Die and Steve fracturing. Kyla dived too deep into their world, and only just managed to save herself and return to her husband and children. Die knows this and is able to put on a brave face to allow Kyla to leave without that guilt, but there is the feeling that neither Die or Kyla are fooled for a minute by the interaction. Though Kyla can pause in the street, look back and hope that it may become true with the passage of time.


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