canyons poster

Paul Schrader (Hardcore; Cat People) delivers a characteristically decadent study with this, his eighteenth film as a director. Scripted by Bret Easton Ellis of Less Than Zero and American Psycho fame, The Canyons is at once tawdry, elegant, and meanspirited, and one of the most notable films of the year.

An extremely frank narrative revolves around repulsively spoiled trust fund wastrel Christian (James Deen), who whiles away his days corrupting the people around him and manipulating them like so many toys. So as to satisfy his father that he has an occupation, he dabbles in movies as a producer, which brings him into indifferent contact with handsome, aspiring actor Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk). Christian professes to like to keep his openly open marriage with slut wife Tara (Lindsay Lohan) comfortably “loose” and “complicated”, but finds more complication than he probably desires when he discovers that seemingly wholesome Ryan has a previous history with Tara.

A constant doom hangs over The Canyons, its title both geographically and thematically descriptive of this sun-baked but gloomy experience. Punctuating the film are images of the empty marquees and ruined interiors of once-glorious, now abandoned movie theaters serving at once as commentary on an industry and on the characters’ inner desolation. Hollywood’s stories about itself, from Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place, and The Bad and the Beautiful through Day of the Locust, The Player, and Hollywoodland, have tended to be downbeat affairs, and The Canyons continues in that tradition – less gothically or spectacularly, perhaps, than the more grotesque entries in the genre, but no less despairing by any measure.

Classy in execution if totally tacky in subject matter, The Canyons is well worth seeking out. James Deen is perfectly detestable as Christian, Nolan Funk’s male beauty is appropriately vapid, and luscious but fading Lindsay Lohan is exquisitely cast as jaded but sympathetic hussy Tara.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Canyons is:

5. Anti-drug. “Why are you drinking tequila at noon?” The danger of date rape drugs receives mention.

4. Anti-gay. Homosexuality appears as a predatory symptom of personal and cultural decadence.

3. Class-conscious. Inherited, unearned wealth like Christian’s gives rise to degeneracy and arrogance.

2. Technology-skeptical. Y appears as a generation rotten in inception and already gone to seed, at once precocious and empty-headed, and incapable of conversing over drinks without texting or sexting simultaneously. One suspects that Schrader holds handheld and streaming technology to be at least partly to blame for the murder of those stately old movie houses. Technology, too, has contributed to these young ones’ flippancy with regard to sexual morality. “Nobody has a private life anymore” and “We’re all actors, aren’t we?” Identity theft also looms as a threat in the world of online everything.

1. Crypto-traditionalist/anti-slut. For all its blatant depravity, male frontal nudity, and other marks of deceptively casual nihilism, The Canyons views its characters through a detached but quietly tragic, judgmental, and conservative lens. “I’m just sick of the old school shit about fuckin’ propriety, etiquette, and all that crap [. . .] It’s like when you’re at your family dinner on Sunday and everyone’s just lying, lying . . .” Christian explains – and he and his peers suffer to the degree that they deviate from the outmoded norms. Christian’s name speaks for itself as a sarcastic commentary on an utterly godless generation given to hedonistic materialism and soulless egoism. The only thing missing from The Canyons is the compounded case of venereal pestilence these little horrors would (hopefully) catch if they lived as depicted for very long.

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