It was booed at Cannes just like the last film he starred in, Only God Forgives, yet Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River may be once again another misjudged wonder. Gosling wears the influence of Nicolas Winding Refn on his sleeve, and he is not subtle about it as the bright contrasting colours, neon, and excessive amounts of gore are all things that Refn are well known for. However, Lost River is closer akin to a David Lynch film than to a Refn one. You could easily say that Lost River is in a sense Blue Velvet but with some Refn imagery thrown in.
Lost River has two stories. The first follows single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) being forced to work in an erratic entertainment club where the people there engage in anything that can really be described as gore fetish. The second follow her son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) as he faces against a bully called Bully (Matt Smith) and gets closely involved with a girl called Rat (Saoirse Ronan). This all takes place on the backdrop of a crumbling town akin to Detroit.
Contrary to what the consensus is, the story is not confusing, there’s just not too much to it. Some messages are not explored and the ones that are, are quickly thrown at the audience within the first 10 minutes. There is a surprising amount of information left out in Lost River, but it works. This is why it is so much like a Lynch film. There is a lot of wonderful imagery but there is never any real explanation for it. This could be why Gosling is criticized for this, because what he has essentially done is create a Lynch film. The story is loose, there is a vast amount of surreal imagery, Matt Smith’s character is outrageously ridiculous but it fits in so well. The biggest criticism then of Lost River is that Gosling’s voice is sadly not heard throughout it as he borrows mainly from Lynch.
All this being said, however, Lost River may be one of the most stylish films in a long while. Every shot is a treat for the eyes and mixed with Johnny Jewel’s stellar score you are given a real treat. This is where Gosling flourishes, as amongst the borrowed imagery you see his own, and it shows a lot of promise for him as a director, he just needs to find his own voice and use it.
One of the best things about Lost River though is the gore fetish club. It’s one of the most ludicrous displays that I have ever seen, yet it is amazingly interesting. I got the feeling that Gosling was making a joke towards Nicolas Winding Refn. Winding Refn has said in the past that he is a “pornographer” and that he gets off on hyperviolence and gore. Plus, just like the shells deep inside the club, Winding Refn has been accused of being misogynistic and portraying women poorly in his films. Is Gosling making reference to this? Is this club just basically Nicolas Winding Refn’s Fun House? The entrance to the club is similar to the mural in the fight club in Only God Forgives, and the prolonged scene where Christina Hendricks cuts her face off – and made me near faint – reminded me of the prolonged torture scene from the same film, it was incredibly uncomfortable.
In conclusion, Lost River has it’s faults, but if you are a fan of Lynch and Refn and you can forgive Gosling for borrowing their imagery, then you may enjoy it. It is certainly a film that will grow on you, and Gosling has a lot of potential, hopefully he continues to make bold unsafe films like this.