I have enjoyed many of Gus van Sant’s films including “Drugstore Cowboy”, “Milk” and the simultaneously mesmerizing and horrifying “Elephant”. But somehow 2007’s “Paranoid Park” slipped by without me noticing.
Well no longer. This is “Paranoid Park” ‘s day in the sun (and a modest sun it is; this website is more like a black dwarf).
Before I continue I should warn you though that the title of this non-review reflection is actually a bit of a spoiler. For that I apologize. But what’s done is done.
The film centers on the meandering life of Alex, a teenage skateboarder who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s not a bad kid. But circumstances conspire against him and, before you know it, somebody has died. But not just died. The death is one of the most disturbing I can recall seeing in a film. Not because it is especially grisly (it is grisly, but not Tarantino grisly) but rather because it is so real.
Indeed, like “Elephant”, the sheer ordinariness of “Paranoid Park” is one of its most unsettling aspects. As the film unfolded I thought of the dreams (nightmares really) that I’ve had in the past in which I mistakenly killed somebody. Was I ever relieved to wake up from those dreams. But poor Alex was already awake.
The reality is that we could easily find ourselves in Alex’s scuffed up Converse shoes. I think here of the time I drove twenty hours straight down the interstate even though near the end (on the long drive through Wyoming) I had taken to microsleeps. Semi in the distance. Blink. Semi dangerously close. Yikes. Better get a Steve Winwood casette in the stereo to wake myself up. Thank God I never ran head long into a Chrysler minivan crammed with a family on their way to Yellowstone. But I could have. And with the right (or wrong) set of circumstances, so could you.
With that sobering thought in mind, I invite you to watch Alex as his life unfolds painfully around that fateful event. And as you do count your own blessings.