Friday, May 29, 2009

Atlantic City

When do you know you're dead?

Atlantic City is, in effect, about dead people, and dead cities. They're don't know they're dead, they're still convinced that they can remain relevant and pull themselves up from the dirt and rise, but their day is long gone and they are just flailing around, not admitting that their day has past.

Burt Lancaster plays a creepy old man who stares at Susan Sarandon as she rubs lemon juice into her boobs. Sarandon's loser husband Robert Joy shows up with her sister and a big bundle of cocaine. He makes friends with the creepy old man, and then things begin to go badly.

It's easy to see why Lancaster goes along with the plan. It makes him feel relevant and interesting again, and people care what he thinks and who he does. He has money, he is important, and he can finally get close to Sarandon and her lemony chest. He, in effect, becomes the young man that he longs to be. Around him, Atlantic City gets shiny new casinos, while everything else collapses and decays.

You eventually feel for Lancaster's character. He's clearly too old for the game he wants to play, and the dame he wants to play with. He wants so desperately to be young and cool that he doesn't realize that there are consequences to his actions.

Sarandon's character is interesting, as she keeps surrounding herself with bad characters and criminals. She seems to tolerate them on the promise of them bringing her bigger and better things. Strangely, they do, in an odd, roundabout way, though it's not exactly a way to get ahead.

It's unfortunate that I hate to discuss endings in this thing, because the ending of this rounds it off perfectly. There's a sense that these characters realize where they belong, right before they make a mistake and end up in the wrong place. It all finishes off sensibly, and as the wrecking ball takes down another hotel, there's a sense that as silly as it may seem, Lancaster was right to not give up, there's a place for him yet. At the beginning of the film, he's a dead man in a dead city, he just hasn't realized it yet. At the end, he's reinvigorated, but he's also leaving town, Atlantic City serving as a purgatory before he goes off to Florida.

As a proud resident of Saskatchewan, however, there is one detail that got right up my griddle. Saskatchewan is portrayed as a hellhole that anyone sensible will do stupid things to escape. Also, Moose Jaw is said to be close to Medicine Hat, when it's not even in the same province. Just because they both have silly names!

So it was mean to my home, it's still a good movie. To answer my question, if this movie is anything to go by, people are dead when they choose to stop living and just go through the motions. All of the characters in the movie start out dead, but by the end, those that choose to live take chances, doing things they don't expect and rebuilding themselves. The characters that die, they die because they have come to Atlantic City to make their way, when the only way to live again is to leave.

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