THE RULES OF ATTRACTION
Director: Roger Avary
Cast: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth
MPAA Rating: (for strong sexual content, drug use, language and violent images)
Running Time: 1:50
Release Date: 10/11/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
In my almost four years of college, I have, thankfully, not had any kind of relationship with anyone like the characters in The Rules of Attraction, but I am saddened to admit that I know they exist. They are selfish, shallow people wallowing in their own selfishness and shallowness, living without any regard for other people unless they have something to offer in return. The film works because it gets into their existence and never tries to apologize for it. There’s no redemption to be found at the end of any of their nihilistic journeys or through their hedonistic tendencies, and that’s the way it should be. There’s no preachy moralizing or irresponsible immoralizing, only the study of such behavior. The only lesson to be learned is that we’re all susceptible to it, and the way life goes, sometimes those who have chosen the path of their own free will get away scot-free without any repercussions. Even more often, though, those who find themselves caught up in the vicious cycle because of circumstances beyond their control are destroyed by it.
At New England’s Camden University, comprised of privileged rich kids, life is a series of brief encounters and wasting time until the next big party until it’s interrupted by a passionate obsession that will most likely be forgotten by the end of the semester. Three of them are the focus of the film, and their stories begin at the so-called “End of the World” party. Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon) has had a crush on drama student Victor Johnson (Victor Pardue) for a while now, but her infatuation has not paid off. She’s spending the party looking to lose her virginity with the next best person—whomever that may be. It all turns horribly sour. Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) is aggressive in his sexuality, flirting with any guy displaying any “gay tendencies” and getting into a lot of trouble for picking up the wrong vibes. Then there’s Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), the quintessential bad influence—a kid whose perception of reality is far too skewed to be anything else.
All three of these people have run into each other in the past year, so to get the audience back to the beginning, we literally rewind. The plot is episodic, giving us glimpses into the lives of these characters and seeing how each has affected the other. The movie is a highly stylized frenzy, which we can tell from the very first sequence which plays with the timeline, rewinding and playing out a new perspective until we’ve met all three major players. This is really a skillfully conceived and executed film. Writer/director Roger Avary (working from a novel by Bret Easton Ellis) has assembled a series of imaginative and artful sequences and images. He uses split screen to great effect to display the reality of a fantasy and in one virtuoso sequence that follows the process of two people going about their morning routine, eventually meeting, and holding a conversation. Then, to top it off, once the conversation is over, the cameras in each half pan simultaneously, and the pictures merge. Another shot uses digital technology to make a single snowflake land next to Sean’s eye and melt, giving the appearance that he’s crying (ironic and symbolic because Sean is probably incapable of crying—or showing any genuine emotion, for that matter).
What connects each segment of the film and keeps it involving is the examination of the characters’ attitude. Some scenes, also exceptionally executed, seem unconnected at first glance, but further inspection shows a certain degree of importance. There’s a suicide scene that’s difficult to take, and it starts with the mundane image of a girl nonchalantly placing three rings and a razor blade on the edge of a bathtub. Avary holds this shot long enough for its sadness to completely sink in. The character is not important to the loose plot, but she serves as a striking antithesis to Sean, who attempts later suicide but only to get attention and be melodramatic (he doesn’t care enough about anything to actually consider the loss of his life an actual loss). There’s another scene between Paul, an old friend of his, and their mothers at a fancy restaurant. Again, it has nothing to do with the story, but the scene is the only glimpse into the characters’ class origins. The mothers treat them as if they were children, letting them get away with their rudeness. It’s no wonder they turned out the way they did.And the film is basically about this specific class of privileged kids who simply don’t care about anything or anyone but themselves. Sex, drugs, and whatever else suits them at the time are just ways to pass the time. Nothing is of any importance to them. We’re only left to identify with Lauren, but ultimately her story is one of gradual descent into the same world. That’s really all there is to learn from The Rules of Attraction, and as depressing as it sounds, it still makes for compelling, occasionally disturbing entertainment.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.