Saturday, September 16, 2006

Subtext - Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas – by Mike Figgis

This, of course, is a very sad film about Ben & Sera.

Ben is trying to kill himself with alcohol. Sera’s a prostitute who takes him in. They fall in love. (It’s funny. I can drink through ANY movie EXCEPT this one.) Ebert said, this “is not a love story, although it feels like one, but a story about two desperate people using love as a form of prayer and a last resort against their pain. It is also a sad, trembling portrait of the final stages of alcoholism.” Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said, “It is a cauterizing movie - it burns like bourbon splashed on an exposed heart.”

Here’s one of the key moments in the film:

No... Sera, no...
See... what you don't
understand is...


Ben is deeply troubled. He comes to a decision.

You can never... ever... ask
me to stop drinking. Do you

(dead serious)
I do. I really do.

Of course, what’s Sera’s actually saying - “I don’t understand. I really, really don’t…. But I understand you, and I will play along until I can find the right moment to save you.”


Ben and Sera sitting opposite each other. He has a bowl of rice, which he is pretending to eat in between sips of vodka. She has a bowl of vegetables and rice. She sits, silently for a while, and then puts down her chopsticks.

You're pretty sick.

Ben looks away.

What are you going to do?

She folds her arms.

I want you to go see a

He thinks for a while and then turns to meet her gaze. They look right into each other's eyes.

Sera... I'm not going to see a

Sera continues to look at him almost defiantly.

Maybe it's time I moved to a

And do what... rot away in a
(becoming angry)
We're not going to talk about
that. Fuck you! I will not
talk about that. You're
staying here. You are not
moving to a hotel.

Will you lighten up, please?

(close to tears)
One thing... one thing... this
is one thing you can do for
me. I've given you gallons of
free will here! You can do
this for me.

In one simple statement, “I want you to go see a doctor,” Sera admits everything. The subtext is huge, because she’s also saying, “I don’t want you to kill yourself. I want you to live. I want you get healthy again. I want you to make a life with me because I love you.” Nothing less than Ben’s life hangs in the balance of her words.

But, of course, Ben refuses. His immediate reaction is to threaten to leave, the very essence of his character – escapism through alcohol – flight, not fight. By this point, it’s the addiction talking, not Ben, which is stronger than his love for her.

I love the way she downplays her request, too. “One thing… one thing… this is one thing you can do for me.” Come on, Ben, it’s just one little thing I’m asking of you – to not kill yourself, to get better, to stick around and love me and make a life with me. Come on, Ben...

But words alone weren’t enough to save him.

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