Restless

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Jason Lew
Year: 2011
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Ryo Kase

★★☆☆☆

Gus Van Sant’s latest film Restless is a bittersweet coming of age tale, which focuses on a romance between Enoch (Harry Hopper), who has an obsession with death, and Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), who is dying of cancer. Enoch’s hobbies include drawing chalk outlines of himself while lying on the road and attending other people’s funerals, and it is at funerals that he meets Annabel.

Death permeates Restless and the imagery, especially at the beginning, is heavy-handed. It is put to good use at times, including one darkly comic scene in a morgue, but is often off-putting. Annabel, despite her condition, provides the respite; she remains beautifully alive, perhaps unbelievably so. Wasikowska’s performance is by far the best in the film, and she steals most of the scenes, especially when Annabel and Enoch find themselves alone in the woods on Halloween. At this point their relationship is strong, and the Halloween scene evokes a quiet tenderness. They exist in a kind of cinematic pseudo-reality, which works because we know it cannot last forever.

Gus Van Sant’s Restless is hardly a matter of life and death.

Unfortunately, they deviate from the plan and are abruptly parted before Annabel even has the chance to die. There is nothing insincere about the romance, which makes this forced drama more frustrating. Restless is undoubtedly best when it is kept simple. But it jerks and twists around until the audience inevitably lose patience with it. Enoch is disappointingly childish, and, while it is understandable that he struggles to come to terms with the impending death of his newfound love, the way in which he goes about it makes it difficult to sympathise. Van Sant’s direction is good, but you get the impression he is going through the motions here. The script offers him little to work with in truth. One clear aberration is the montage in the middle, although the choice of music is fitting – the soundtrack on the whole is good.

The minor characters are underused; Annabel’s mother (Lusia Strus) and Enoch’s aunt (Jane Adams) are never allowed to develop out of their clichéd roles, and the touching relationship between Annabel and her sister, Elizabeth (Schuyler Fisk), remains in the background. The best scene in the film is dedicated to it, but little else. One character who is developed, to a point of perhaps unsurprising irritation, is the ghost, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase). He is curiously intrusive for a ghost, particularly towards the end, when the real relationship needs to take centre stage. There are other problems with the character too; his World War II back story is out of place, and, like a lot of ghosts, he is inconsistently tangible.

The ending sums up the film’s major problems. There is the chance to delve back into the relationship at its heart and give it a meaningful swansong, but Restless feebly avoids the climax it is crying out for. Hiroshi is given the emotional lines. And Enoch, in the end, has nothing at all to say.

Rob Dickie

Extended version of a review originally published in The Student on 25 October 2011

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