Paranoid Park and the Secret
Mario Goldenberg

This film by Gus Van Sant, featured in the article, won the 60th Anniversary Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The director of Elephant based his script on a Blake Nelson novel. The plot takes place in his home town of Portland, Oregon.

The film tells the story of a teenager in a skatepark, where the plot unfolds following an accidental death.

Van Sant is to be commended for capturing the subjectivity of contemporary teenagers.

Alex, a 16-year-old skater, lives in a dismembered household: his parents are splitting up, he has a pretty girlfriend whom he is not interested in, and his life is as aimless as a swinging skate.

He goes with a friend to a place known as Paranoid Park, a marginal place created by skaters themselves. One night, while a new, rather older friend is teaching him how to jump onto a train, they are caught in the act by a security guard, who tries to hit them with a torch. By accident, Alex defends himself by hitting the guard with his skate – the guard falls onto the line and is run over by an oncoming train.

After this episode everything breaks loose. Alex tries to call his father, who is on the beach with his uncle, in the small hours to tell him about what happened, but he gives up. He has no one to tell about the appalling episode.

He is questioned by the police, together with others, at school, but in no way do they suspect in the least that he accidentally killed the guard. The dialogue with the Asian policeman who questions him seems to lend itself to a confession, but Alex, like most teenagers today, knows how to hide things.

The script posits an interesting problem: there is a secret that the main character cannot tell anyone about, but which affects him. As he himself says: “I need this to stop.”

He expresses no particular interest in his girlfriend, with whom he has had a sexual encounter. In a key scene, after sex, she kisses him, leaves the room, and calls a girlfriend to tell her how wonderful it was.

There is no mention of love between them. Alex resembles Camus’s stranger during the sex scene.

Adolescence essentially involves the encounter with the other sex. The film shows that in these no longer Victorian times, when everything is allowed, access to sex is not regimented by morality. When Alex’s friends learn that he has left his girlfriend, all they tell him is that he has lost the means of getting free sex.

The plot unfolds like a tragedy. The hero has a secret: that of a crime, a death he unwillingly caused, but he has nobody to tell about it, he has nobody to address and in turn nobody finds out.

The world of these teenagers is a world of lonely subjects linked by skating, which is an aimless drifting, just the pure enjoyment of swinging. There is a deep chasm between this world and the adult world: teenagers do not trust adults and know how to lie to them.

We grownups know how emos and floggers dress and wear their hair, but we know nothing about them. They sometimes confide in their peers but not in their parents, much less in their teachers, but in the best scenario they keep a certain privacy to themselves.

Gérard Wajcman, a French psychoanalyst, playwright, and essay writer, has written a brief memoir in the recently published book The Rule of the Game (1).

Wajcman says “The possibility of what is hidden is not simply a conquest, it is a condition of the subject: there is only a subject if he or she cannot be seen (…) The condition for intimacy is inserted within the subject’s possibility of removing him or herself from the power of the all-seeing other. The right to secrecy draws the border of intimacy, and thereby arise three possible states of the border. It can remain watertight, instituting and preserving two disjunctive spaces, leaving the subject outside the Other’s influence. Or else the Other wants to see. This is an inquisitorial time. It is the time, for instance, of video surveillance, police control, urban monitoring, planetary monitoring”

The film moves between these two stages, secrecy and the all-seeing other, the “security” Big Brother.

Gérard Wajcman posits a third way of crossing the border: “(…) it may well be that the subject decides to open up his or her intimacy, talk about it or expound it. Psychoanalysis corresponds to this desire, and art and literature are also places for the exercise of this freedom.”

Alex is at a crossroads. No one has found out about what he did, but there is something that he has been unable to say. Only one friend senses that there is something which he cannot tell anyone about, and she suggests that he write it down, that he send a letter to some newspaper, or simply that he burn it.

Alex writes his story down and then burns it.

The act of writing is a subjectivization of the secret, but it is not addressed to anyone.

There is no Other is a good Lacanian formula to describe the time of the “non-existent Other”, as formulated by Jacques-Alain Miller and Eric Laurent.

The key to the film lies not in the guard’s death, but in the sex scene.

In a world in which everything is seen, in which anything goes, how can sexual jouissance be accessed, taking into account that there is no knowledge of sex?

The intimacy of sex is a crime: Victorian and religious morality used to give guilty sense to enjoyment. In these times, characterized by the Lacanian superego as a command to enjoy, the encounter is blocked by the fact that there is no sexual relation.

In a home that has been broken by his parents’ separation, Alex finds no way to approach a woman. He finds someone to follow in a recently made, older friend, who takes him train hopping – a transgressive jouissance.

One reading of the plot might be: sex is the crime. Alex has nobody to follow: it is quite striking that the only person he tries to tell about what happened at first is his father, but he immediately gives up.

There are four fathers in the film: the dead guard, run over by the train; the policeman who seems to know everything, a persecuting other; his older friend, whom he follows; and his father, in whom he does not really believe.

All four do not make one father: Alex is forced to find his solution in the act of writing, which enables him to take responsibility in his own way, and then burn what he wrote.

Psychoanalysis is a refuge for intimacy, and in this sense it is the psychoanalyst who incarnates and protects it, producing the operation of analysis as a solution and an assumption of the singularity of every subject’s jouissance.

Current adolescent modalities are very well captured in this film. What ideals sustain them? Is killing someone something serious? Is it something fun, as in Elephant? How can a love encounter take place at a time when the discourse of late capitalism rejects both bonds and love? What is the ethics of these new times?



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