Garden State

Garden State

I had heard a few things about Garden State over the years, all or mostly positive. I gather it’s a film that speaks to a lot of people—especially young adults—and rings emotionally true to them.

I’d say relative to that, the movie was a mild disappointment. I didn’t come away disliking it, but I maybe expected to be a little more impressed with it than I was.

This is one of those movies that has quirky characters doing quirky things, but it’s also trying to make some serious points. I’m at best neutral on the quirky stuff. I don’t know that it’s integrated all that well into the movie. It’s like it’s just there to kind of lighten things and add an occasional chuckle, but to me it was distracting at least as much as it enhanced the movie.

I just wasn’t all that drawn in by the recurring scenes of the main character drifting along, observing the people he encounters with a sort of dazed puzzlement and bemusement as they do and say the darnedest things. (These are mostly people from his past. He’s returned to his hometown following the death of his mother, and he’s re-establishing some old ties. His emotionally flat reaction to things is explained by the fact that he’s been on prescription drugs most of his life to keep him from experiencing too much pain or anger over a childhood trauma.)

I understand why this is a very popular movie with the young adult or college crowd, but I found unappealing some of what I suspect makes it so.

While dependence on prescription drugs (that is, drugs pushed on you by the Establishment—in his case, his own father, a psychiatrist) is presented negatively, recreational drugs are presented as a natural, normal part of life and social interaction.

In fact, there’s a general anti-judgmental feel to the movie that I think would appeal to conventional young people who’ve received a lot of relativist or postmodernist influence in their schooling. I think of this especially in connection with the one guy the protagonist hangs out with the most, especially in the second half of the movie.

I found him to be a mildly distasteful fellow in general. He shoplifts, he works as a gravedigger and steals from the corpses, he’s a druggie, and he has a kind of surly manner some of the time. But he also seems like the kind of guy who has the right intangibles to be accepted and appreciated. You know, he’s kind of a fun, casual guy to hang out with, he probably wouldn’t screw over his friends, he shows at least some capacity for kindness. He’s the kind of person you can imagine the folks in his life agreeing “Oh, he’s a good guy,” one of the “automatics” to invite to a party and have in your life.

And I don’t think he’s some horrible person, but he’s certainly got some scumbag elements to him. But nobody reacts against that or has a problem with it.

It’s the kind of movie where I feel like if I have trouble with anything like that, then I’m out of step and being all priggish.

I should have liked the ending, but for some reason it didn’t win me over.

The main character, who has experienced a kind of emotional reawakening from being off his prescriptions, prepares to leave town to return to his life. In these few days he’s been back for a visit, he’s been engaged in a dalliance with a girl (not someone he’d known from before). They have a big emotional scene where he changes his mind about leaving, because he realizes he’s in love with her and he feels he has to let his heart make the call on something this important to his life.

Normally I’m all for that kind of thing. I didn’t end up with the great love of my life, but maybe as a way of living vicariously through others (or just liking people and wanting good things for them), I have a natural inclination to root for people to find their great love and realize that nothing’s more important than being able to act on their love for that person. That’s both in real life and in movies and such: I want people to realize how crucial it is to not let that opportunity get away.

I’m not sure why I reacted with more of a shrug here though.

Maybe the girl herself didn’t seem all that great to me. She’s got the quirkiness thing in spades, and there’s nothing wrong with her looks, but I just didn’t see a lot else there. She’s one of those aggressively goofy, affected people who blurts out whatever pops into her head and expects it to be treated as admirable frankness or general cuteness or something. She’s OK, but just doesn’t come across as particularly mature or stable.

This is one of those rare times when maybe the head should overrule the heart on relationship matters. Because he’s kind of unstable himself, having just come off his medications, and when he talks about needing to re-establish his own life as an individual, that makes a heck of a lot more sense than throwing oneself into something with someone that one has known for only a few days who is none too stable herself.

Yet, normally I would still say to grab the opportunity to be with your great love, but I guess it wasn’t just that I didn’t feel all that drawn to her, but that I wasn’t buying the chemistry between them, so I wasn’t convinced he was all that drawn to her. He’s in a daze most of the movie after all, and even as he starts to come alive emotionally, it’s all about him and digging into himself and understanding himself, with her and the other people serving more as bit players. I didn’t sense he was all that focused on her, or feeling anything real deep for her.

So, you know, that’s cool. Hope it works out and all. But I didn’t see the kind of connection to make it all that believable or appealing a romantic ending.

I was at least somewhat interested the whole way with Garden State, so again I wouldn’t say I disliked it. It’s a bit easier to watch than a lot of the movies I’ve written about so far, as it’s in English, and it doesn’t have that real low budget feel of a lot of the indies.

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