DVD: Daydream Nation (Anchor Bay, May 2011).
Director: Michael Goldbach.
Cast: Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson, Andie MacDowell, Rachel Blanchard, and Josh Lucas.
How to Get Yourself Lost in the Woods
?Plato: I used to lie in my crib at night and I’d listen to them fight.
Jim: Can you remember back that far? I can’t remember what happened yesterday. [laughs] I can’t. How do you do it?
Plato: Oh, I had to go to a headshrinker. Boy, he made me remember.
Jim: Did he?
Plato: Then my mother said it cost too much, so she went to Hawaii instead.?
Rebel Without a Cause
Young Caroline Wexler isn’t a likeable person. She’s annoyingly cocky. She’s emotionally shallow, manipulative, predatory, selfish, and fearless; at first she even looks like a psychopath. She sardonically observes the absurd demonstrations of self-destructive behaviour around her while selling off her own personal resources to satisfy the whims of her ego. Smart, beautiful, and a bit snooty, she has an overweening sense of entitlement that attracts the contempt of females and the desire of males. Her hero is Monica Lewinsky, whose only flaw (according to Caroline) was indiscretion.
Caroline’s school, Hargrove High, is the social purgatory of your adolescent nightmares, a place where everyone is so filled with hopelessness and self-loathing that they’re poorly equipped to give or receive love even though the need to do both is at times overwhelming.
As we listen to Caroline justify seducing her teacher, It’s clear that She’s simply trying to assure herself that the licentiousness of her society is in fact good and desirable; this way she doesn’t need to face any inner conflict. And That’s the whole point: to run from conflict to the point of exhaustion, and then to die.
Daydream Nation is aptly named. The characters abandon themselves to daydreams, delusions, drugs, alcohol, sex, or even a fantasy bedroom decorated?quite hideously?with a unicorn theme. At first the characters make attempts to convince themselves that their various forms of self-abandonment are actually liberty and autonomy, but that wears thin pretty quickly as we see the absurd measures the characters take to avoid having to deal with reality.
Dope-smoking slacker Thurston has a moment of clarity when he realizes that switching from being a hero to being a victim is actually a huge relief. The tragedy is that he thinks he has only these two choices?hero or victim. He’s desperate for anything but to seek the fulfillment of the self That’s a stranger to him.
As is fitting in a film about teenagers, sex and death are twined together in a way that contaminates them both. We see the full spectrum of depravity in this string of characters, ranging from an innocent little girl to a serial killer.
It’s not mentioned explicitly, but It’s clear that most of the action unfolds at Halloween (in many shots you see children and teenagers dressed in costumes). It’s a telling symbol of the need for masks and disguises as ego defenses, aids to help you make your way in a world in which control has been abdicated by all those responsible for maintaining it.
The great performances coaxed out of these actors just enhance the high level of conflict in the plot. And the soundtrack is magical?delightfully childlike, and inspiring of wonder.
Like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, Caroline must come to terms with the fact that although she and her cohorts believe they live according to their own laws, they’re still nestled inside a network of moral directives that are bigger than they are.
This film is much like one of David’s Psalms; it starts out bemoaning the wickedness and misery of this world but somehow ends up affirming that God’s in his heaven, that we are loved, and that our redemption is nigh.
Daydream Nation manifests five of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it poses and admirably responds to questions having a direct bearing on my view of existence; 2) it is about attainment of the true self; 3) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; and 5) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.