Overview: A mother at the end of her rope, emotionally and economically, in a dystopia set within the fictionalized wreckage of a quasi-future Detroit, is forced to sell herself as a commodity in order to protect her family estate and look after her two sons. 2014; Warner Bros. Pictures; Rated R; 95 minutes
Denial and Anger: Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut is something of a mess. Gosling’s seeming denial of his own grievously misguided pretensions towards an aesthetic imitation of Lost River’s decided influences prevent the film from becoming anything more than a ponderous retread of what’s come before. Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, Gosling’s Lost River feels at odds with itself. The thematic motif of grief attributed to the loss suffered by an entire community on the brink of dissolution is weirdly inchoate when it should be palpably effusive. Instead of taking the film’s treatment of individual denial and anger against the crumbling façade of the American nuclear family in decline, Lost River rages against itself. Its aurally propulsive atmosphere and fairy tale plot structure is similar to David Lynch, but it’s unable to delve any deeper than surface level surrealism, the insects of Blue Velvet remaining underground where Lost River fails to delve.
Bargaining and Depression: Yet, for all of its thematic and tonal redundancies and dissonance, Lost River’s brooding menace is effectively depressing. Its characters are left in myriad states of desperation from which they are forced to bargain for their very lives. Iain De Caestecker is in top form as a dramatic stand-in for Gosling; his innocence, ambition, and entrepreneurial verve save the film’s more prurient dramatics from becoming too distressingly realistic. In Caestecker’s pursuit of an escape from Lost River’s kaleidoscopic nightmare, Lost River transforms into the urban fable that Gosling at times aspires towards creating.
Acceptance: Unfortunately, despite all of the film’s ambition and joie de vivre, Gosling’s Lost River ultimately unwinds under the weight of its own idealistic vision. The film’s final acceptance of the death of the characters’ childhood home is sacrificed for a lazily constructed and conveniently construed conception of home as being made up of the people who collectively form a family. In other words, home is where the heart is, not where you have physically resided for decades prior. In the final sequence of Lost River, with shots of the once fervently protected home quickly turning into burning embers and falling ash, the characters may have come to the final stage of a subjectively felt grief, but it is a catharsis that doesn’t translate for the audience. There’s simply too much degradation and misery (not to mention inexplicably bizarre imagery) that Gosling leaves largely unexamined, making Lost River a morbidly interesting thrill ride that concludes well before any true thematic climax.
Overall: Ryan Gosling’s Lost River is an enviable debut from the first time director, indicative of all he has learned as an actor under the direction of both Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance. Regrettably, it never reaches the dramatic cohesion comparatively found in Drive or The Place Beyond the Pines, Lost River evocative only within and of itself, despite its visual capacity to compel.