Film in review: “Restless”

That’s it. The many folks wanting lighthearted entertainment will avoid this one. It’s certainly not a testosterone-pumped action film. It’s not a comedy, though it does revel in the offbeat and the ironic. It’s a kind of romance, but doomed from the start, so no “happily ever after” here. And it’s certainly not about sports or the grand sweep of history. The scope is really very small – just two unusual people who happen to find each other for a while. But there’s something about their interaction which tickles the whimsy bone.

Twenty-year-old Mia Wasikowska has recently played Alice in “Alice In Wonderland” and Jane in “Jane Eyre,” so her acting credentials are already well-established, and even though her girl-next-door good looks are downplayed here, as the sick girl with the chopped-off hair, we can’t take our eyes off her. She handles this potentially heavy-handed role of Annabel with just the right light touch. It’s not that she doesn’t acknowledge the seriousness of her illness. It’s just that she’s determined that she doesn’t want to spend her last days as a “sickie.” Except that her mom has decided to handle it by drinking, and her older sister is mothering her, so she’s not getting lighthearted at home. So when she spots this adolescent-looking man-child who seems like a little lost puppy, she claims him. Partially because she’s simply attracted to him. But then there’s that mysterious feminine instinct of wanting to “fix” a wounded guy…..

Henry Hopper – yes, Dennis Hopper’s son – plays Enoch, who lives with his absent aunt because his parents died in a car crash a couple of years back. Enoch himself, we later learn, was in the same crash, and was in a coma for three months, and allegedly “died” himself for a few seconds there, so now he has this very cavalier attitude about living. He’s suffering from survivor guilt. He seems to be obsessed with death and dying, thus the frequenting of the funerals of strangers. (A funeral home officiant has begun to be suspicious, and has lectured Enoch sternly and threatened to call the gendarmes.)

Enoch has an imaginary friend, or more accurately, a friendly ghost friend, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), who wears the garb of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War II. Enoch explains to Annabel that Hiroshi started appearing at the hospital, and has been visiting him ever since, as if his brief visit “to the other side” opened some kind of portal for Hiroshi. Hiroshi, too, has some issues with personal maturity. It turns out that because of the war, he never got the chance to romance the girl he was interested in back home, much less live past the playfulness of youth. He and Enoch sit and play “Battleship” in Enoch’s room, and Hiroshi always wins, because, he says, he has good instincts. (People whose personal history with World War II is more vivid and emotional might find this kind of ironic humor a bit offensive.) But Hiroshi winds up helping Enoch by allowing himself to be supplanted by Annabel.

Enoch and Annabel do safe, harmless things together – no skydiving or parasailing, but costumes and play-acting and reading bird-watching books to each other. They enjoy each other’s playfulness, even if they both realize that the whole relationship is living on borrowed time. Better to have loved and lost, and all that…..

If the viewers have stayed with this odd little film thus far, they can’t help but be charmed by this odd coupling, and somehow be glad for the catharsis and release that her inevitable demise will bring to both of them. “Restless” is not for everyone. But it’s a quiet little gem that is deserving of more attention than it will receive.

Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.

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