Restless, directed by master auteur Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk), is a tragic coming of age tale. The film focuses on Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper), an angry death-obsessed teenager who often speaks with his ghost friend, a former Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase). Since, for reasons unknown, Enoch dropped out of school, he spends much of his time crashing funerals. At one particular funeral he meets Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), a terminal cancer patient. In Van Sant’s eccentric way the film becomes their love story, delving into the tragic details of the two teens lives, and exploring their connection, which is unfortunately through their familiarity with death.
While remaining both romantic and funny, this tragic story will move you. The film successfully makes the viewer feel deeply sympathetic to the characters through its stunning use of cinematography. Whether it depicts the pair on a walk through a graveyard or lying on a hospital bed together, the camera always observes the characters with profound affection. The resulting sense of poetry comes through most effectively in scenes of intimacy. The film is stylistically reminiscent of last year’s Sofia Coppola film Somewhere, notably shot by the same cinematographer, Harris Savides. Van Sant and Savides succeed with these techniques almost always, never relying on quirkiness, which I had feared.
Van Sant was not afraid to let the actors take risks, and the decision paid off. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right) is better than ever, portraying Annabel with complexity that I have never seen from her. While Restless probably will not stand out in the Van Sant catalogue, it is certainly a film that impresses in a lackluster month for independent film.
I do not expect Restless to hit with any of the major award groups, as they tend to shy away from minimalist pieces like this. Hopefully, some critics groups may give Restless the praise it deserves come the lists in December, I know I will. I definitely recommend Restless to viewers who liked other recent sensual minimalist films like Somewhere, Greenberg, and Jack Goes Boating. You will not regret experiencing this elegant and memorable film.