Though steeped in morbidity, Restless is far from zestless

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Restless, Gus Van Sant’s newest flick, is an impassioned, bittersweet tour de force. Gus Van Sant is known for cinematic oddities such as My Private Idaho, Paranoid Park and Good Will Hunting.  Restless is a love story between terminally-ill Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasakowski) and Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper), a saddened teen. Annabel is a naturalist with a spellbinding zest for life despite the fact that she only has three months to live. Enoch sorely lacks her joie de vivre and idealizes death. He attends strangers’ funerals and his lone friend is the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi. Throughout the film, the audience is left on tenterhooks, fearing that Enoch will bid life farewell. Yet, Annabel’s presence brings light to Enoch’s shadowy outlook.

Restless reflects how fleeting life is and how we struggle to enjoy it when it seems unending. Annabel speaks freely about her imminent death and rarely seems daunted by it. She discusses her funeral preferences with a grin and decides that she wants a table brimming with burgers, milkshakes and oodles of other trans-fat and corn syrup-laden goodies at her service, explaining that people inevitably turn to food for comfort when dealt with sadness.

In the hands of a less-skilled director, Enoch would be cast as an unlikable misanthrope, but it’s easy to sympathize with him. Nearly everyone has experienced moments riddled with misery and Enoch has reason to be miserable – his parents died in a car accident that he too almost died in and he was forced to drop out of high school. He feels alone and lost.

Thus, Annabel and Enoch needed to meet each other. Annabel needed to experience love before she died and Enoch needed someone to reveal to him the beauty inherent in life and someone to believe in him. Their dates as a couple are aptly morbid – a trip to the morgue at the hospital where Annabel is a patient, funeral plans discussed over lunch and body outlines sketched with chalk in the middle of a street. Hopper and Wasakowski share a wonderful chemistry that makes the movie and these moments even more touching.

Enoch and Annabelle are a match made in heaven as evidenced by their whimsical attire. Enoch wears mostly black suits, an expression of his inner turmoil, while Annabelle has a penchant for vintage garb. She wears ‘60s evening gowns, fur coats and a plaid jacket that captures the essence of her idol, Charles Darwin.

Though Restless received mixed reviews, it is one of the best, most unique movies of the year. Critics deemed it too sappy, but I found it to be sentimental in the best sense, compelling  me to meditate on life and appreciate its sweetness – and its finality.

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