A lot of people remember when it became clear to them what exactly cinema is, and for me, it was watching “Elephant” at around the age of 15. The silence, the longueurs, the fumbling sexuality, the palpable, tactile sense of the end of life, the realness of it. The kids in his movie pulled the trigger and characters we know and don’t know at all dropped dead. People still call this movie immoral, but honestly as a kid, even a Quaker kid, this movie made me understand some things about life it would have otherwise taken me years to realize.
The finality, the simplicity of life, you think about it as a kid, but the American cinema doesn’t usually just hand it to you. But there it was. That’s when I knew Gus Van Sant was someone to whom I should pay very careful attention. It never mattered to me that he danced so close to the mainstream, the man had the truth on his side and I’d wait patiently to experience it. He’d deliver every few years and I’d be that kid again, wrecked, crying, seeing the simplicity of life and death and putting that work in context in my own life.
After 2019, with its myriad funerals for me, and 2020, in which everyone in America lost somebody, I returned to “Restless” and was once more reduced to my youngest self, learning about the end of life for the first time. I’m so grateful this man and his work exists. I don’t know what I would have done without it.