Paranoid Park (Van Sant’s 2007 creation) is essentially a film about one’s conscience. However, even in an adolescent view, it does a great job of portraying the difference in character of someone who maliciously committed a crime and someone who was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Alex is a teenage kid wrapped up in the world of skateboarding, and one night he unwillingly witnesses and causes the death of a railroad worker near a skateboard hotspot called Paranoid Park. Although the crime wasn’t technically his fault, Alex can’t shake what he saw (which was one of the most disturbing images I’ve seen in a film, let alone a Van Sant film.)
While Paranoid Park was once a world he longed to be a part of, he now regrets the night he braved to go there, and his own world now becomes one of paranoia and suspicion.
Signs of guilt are shown within the stares and questions of his friends that make him feel suspect, the ticking of a clock signifying that anytime he could be caught, and the silence of worry that overcomes his mind when interacting in now-meaningless social situations.
One of the most powerful scenes of the film was when Alex takes a shower after the crime. We see wallpaper behind him of birds, and then we hear silence except for imaginary birds chirping, portraying that this “cleansing” is only temporary for Alex, as soon he’ll have to face reality.
Although many may have been dissatisfied with the ending of the film, (namely- will Alex be caught,) I felt Van Sant’s intentions with this film were clear enough to demonstrate that a conclusion wasn’t needed. The point, if any, seemed to be that there are a million consequences to the choices we make, even a choice that was merely the consequence of peer pressure and the want to belong. Sadly, these are things all teenagers must deal with, and therefore it seems one’s fate is simply a roll of the dice, no matter how old you are.
(The only glitch I had about the film was that a railroad worker would typically know the train schedule, and therefore would know when the next one was coming, and so one would think he wouldn’t run out between the tracks, risking his own safety.)
At first this filmed seemed oddly boring and poorly acted until the plot (and the musical score) set in. However, the director was smart in using unknowns to play the roles, and teenage boys do typically have such mannerisms (making juvenile jokes an uncomfortable conversation, stumbling over words,) an in a sense, it made the film more real. In addition, it’s clear Van Sant is a fan of Elliot Smith, and his music, along with the mesmerizing songs of Nino Rota, made the film worth watching.