Friday June 23, 2000
As Bette Gordon's seductive "Luminous Motion" commences, we hear via voice-over its young protagonist recalling a ghostly memory of childhood of "blurred images and nightmares." It's an indication that he ultimately will have difficulty distinguishing between what was real and what was not.
Gordon, best known for "Variety," maintains this tension for us in a manner that is at once engaging and provocative. "Luminous Motion" is as rigorous as it is sensual. As it is envisioned from the point of view of a 10-year-old, we cannot rely upon the accuracy of what we're seeing, which in some incidents may entirely be a figment of a boy's imagination. Stick with the film, and you'll come away with the sense of experiencing a rite of passage of both considerable intensity and darkness.
"Life was perfect," we're told by our unseen narrator as he recalls his existence on the run with his adored mother (Deborah Kara Unger). A sultry blond, Mom picks up guys, takes them to motels and leaves them robbed. Mother and son are constantly on the move, and precocious little Phillip (Eric Lloyd), who pores over biology and physics textbooks in his mother's Chevy, hopes that they will be able to continue this reckless, carefree existence forever.
He does not count on Mom developing a need to settle down and is horrified that she is about to give it all up to settle down with a kindly carpenter (Terry Kinney), who does his level best to be a loving and conscientious father to Phillip. When Philip's resistance takes a drastic turn, mother and son are on the road again, but Phillip may well have met his match when his actual father (Jamey Sheridan) turns up to reclaim his family.
You could say that Phillip is in the throes of an Oedipal complex that could have potentially dire consequences in its resolution, but the film, which Gordon based on the Scott Bradfield novel, "The History of Luminous Motion," is too sly and jaunty--too outright kinetic--to let itself become bogged down in Freudian analyses. It's all about being open to experience, real or imaginary; you either survive it or you don't. You either accept the inevitability of change and loss as a part of growing up, or you're destroyed by them.
Gordon calls her film "the story of paradise lost, of one child's fall from heaven to earth, from Eden to banality," and that about sums up this offbeat fable, at once lyrical and brutal. Gordon directs her cast to play individuals who are nonchalant but nevertheless determined to be themselves. By the time "Luminous Motion" is over, Phillip is just beginning to see the light, beginning to grasp how being grown up is about taking responsibility for the consequences of all your actions.
That everything Gordon depicts with such clarity, ease and precision may or may not be actually happening ultimately becomes beside the point. For what counts here is the acute psychological validity with which Gordon evokes a coming of age that's seen with a darkly outrageous sense of humor--and no small amount of compassionate detachment.
Luminous Motion, 2000. Unrated. An Artistic License Films release. Director Bette Gordon. Producers Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope. Executive producer Eric Rudin. Screenplay by Robert Roth, Scott Bradfield; based on the novel "The History of Luminous Motion" by Bradfield. Cinematographer Teodoro Maniaci. Editor Keiko Deguchi. Music Lesley Barber. Costumes Melissa Toth. Production designer Lisa Albin. Art director Paul Avery. Set decorator Alisa Grifo. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Eric Lloyd as Phillip. Deborah Kara Unger as Mom. Terry Kinney as Pedro. Jamey Sheridan as Dad.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times