“The Place Beyond the Pines” is Derek Cianfrance’s 2012 film, starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta, Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Taking place in Schenectady, New York, the story surrounds Luke, a daredevil motorcycle rider, who finds out that a fling he had with a woman one year before resulted in a child. In an effort to support his newfound family, he begins robbing banks, only he doesn’t take the advice of his partner- “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder”- and indeed, Luke messes up and ends up dead. The second half of the movie surrounds the story of Avery Cross, the cop who shot him, and Avery’s struggle with the corruption of the police department. Unlike the rough, sometimes volatile Luke, Avery appears soft-spoken and gentle. He doesn’t truly believe that he “got rid of another bad guy,” as his associates want him to believe. He is haunted by the death of Luke in regards to the family Luke left behind. The last third of the film takes place fifteen years later, where Avery’s son AJ and Luke’s son Jason by chance meet, and things escalate from there.
Whether done on purpose or not, the film seems to be divided in two- one half describes Luke’s story- the other half Avery’s story. The portion of the film with Luke in it had a strange, surreal vibe to it; take for example the scene where Luke is sitting on his bike at a green light, staring off into space- this scene reminded me of a David Lynch movie. Especially powerful was the scene of Jason’s baptism where Luke, not fitting in with all his tattoos, sits in the back and watches another man baptize his son- the music chiming in at the end to perhaps foreshadow Jason’s fate. Avery’s story snaps us back to reality; we’re no longer in the world of an outlaw but the world of a stand-up citizen and cop. We can’t blame Avery for Luke’s death, but viewers probably were looking for someone to blame, as Luke’s life was cut short way too early in the film. Plus we sympathize with Luke, as for the majority of time he is on-screen, he’s trying to prove he’s worthy of his son’s love.
Like 2010’s Blue Valentine, the ending to this film seems unresolved, except for the fact that both Jason and AJ seem to be following in their father’s footsteps. AJ seems to respect his father and his profession, just as Avery respected the advice of his father. Just as Luke did not have a father figure, Jason feels he hasn’t one either, and therefore decides to purchase a bike and ride out west. Perhaps the song at the end, Bon Iver’s “The Wolves Act I and II,” best describes the ending with the lyrics, “What might have been lost.” What might have been lost was the life and/or freedom of Jason had he killed Avery or AJ when he had the chance. In this way, despite inevitably ending up like our parents, we still have free will to choose a different path.
This film contained great music as well, featuring artists like Bon Iver, Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, The Cryin’ Shames, and more.