RESTLESS. Starring Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, and Ryo Kase. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Rated M (Mature themes). 91 min.
This is an American-British drama film that was screened in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and it is unusual.A young drifter, Enoch (Henry Hopper) has a ghost, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), for a friend, who was a Japanese kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. At a funeral, Enoch meets a young woman, Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), and they start a relationship. Enoch’s hobby is to attend funerals of strangers when he is not invited to them. He is a depressed young man, who just happens to have a dead friend. Annabel and Enoch fall in love, and Annabel tells Enoch that she has three months to live.
Both Enoch and Annabel are restless. Enoch is restless with living, and is preoccupied with death. Annabel is restless to get on with her impending death. Neither holds living with a great deal of respect. It is a film about love and death, where death as a theme anchors a tender love relationship between two young people.
Enoch’s and Annabel’s eccentricities have an explanation. Enoch’s parents died in an horrific car cash, which he survived, and he spent three months in a hospital in coma after his near-death experience. His ghost has been with him ever since. He has never recovered from their death, doesn’t know who to blame and questions why he is still living, so explaining his preoccupation with going to funerals. Annabel is a cancer patient who has shared a hospital ward with people, who have died around her, and their deaths have developed in her an acute awareness that she is terminally ill. They both share a fascination with death for different reasons.
The eccentricity of the relationships between Enoch and Annabel (and Enoch and his dead friend) envelops the movie, and the device of theming love through the oddness of its characters is ever-present. It is challenge to both Hooper and Wasikowska to handle the complexity of their roles, and they manage to do that very well. Mia Wasikowska is particularly impressive as Annabel.
The relationship between Enoch and Annabel raises good moral points about the worth of a loving family, and the universal need for understanding and caring support. At times, the surface manifestations of Enoch’s and Annabel’s oddness smother anything deeper trying to get through. However, it is a film that is emotionally simple in its messages, but very imaginative. Love grows, Annabel can’t see the ghost, but Enoch can, and the ghost acts as a moral conscience for Enoch.
The movie’s treatment of death, bereavement and love is likely to appeal more to adults than teenagers, because of the maturity of the theme of death. There have been other films that have joined oddness and mortality. One, for example, that is brilliantly innovative is “Harold and Maude” (1971), which is a film that is equally obsessed with death, and about a quirky relationship between a young man and a lively old woman that starts at a funeral. This movie may have needed more fantasy, or more realism to achieve its goals entirely successfully. However, in attempting to mix fantasy and reality in the way that it does, the film presents us with an original and uplifting statement by a good Director that says something different about teenage attraction, and the attraction between Enoch and Annabel is moving. What the film perhaps says, is that we should accept ourselves for what we are, before we can move on and attend to living, but it doesn’t quite make that point.
This is a morbidly whimsical tale that is trapped a little by its own constraints, but it is sensitively and warmly acted, and very well directed. There are moments of great enjoyment in the film, and it gives romantic love a very unusual twist.
Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Sony Pictures Classics.
Out December 1st. 2011.