The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Roger Avary
viewed: 02/25/03

Published in 1987, Bret Easton Ellis’ novel The Rules of Attraction addressed itself to its contemporary world, in particular to the luridly hedonistic “reality” that lie behind the facade of the priveleged lives at an ivy league university of the time. In apadting the book, Roger Avary opted to not make a period film, but to rather set the film’s events in the “present” of the film’s production, assuming, I guess, that the world depicted had not changed dramatically in the ensuing 15 or so years. However, Avary scores the film with a good deal of music from the book’s time period (lots of late-80’s pop music), perhaps a minor nod to the book’s original setting. The result has a weird effect, seeming creating a time period somewhere between the book’s contemporary world and the one contemporaneous with film’s production.

Avary uses the soundtrack to comment on the action of the film, punctuating numerous scenes with snippets of lyrics and refrains that often make an ironic statement on the situation of the characters and events. In one scene, Paul, who is in love with Sean, is shown in split screen, on one side fantasizing (masturbating, actually) while on the other side the projection of his fantasy is played out. Since there is no dialogue occuring, the music floods the soundtrack with Love and Rockets’ “So Alive,” panting “I’m alive, oh, oh, so alive.” Though Paul’s fantasy is alive, Sean is passed out on the floor right in front of him, the real experience is not alive at all. This might not be the best example of what I am talking about, but it’s the one that comes to mind.

The film’s attitude towards its characters is a mixture of contempt, sympathy, and humor. The characters all suffer from an inability to connect emotionally with one another, though in many ways, they are a classic love triangle, longing emotionally for one another. To different extents, they seem to have some self-awareness, but are so addled with sex, drugs, and their unfulfilled desires that they only wind up humiliated and demoralized. Avary uses a sort of “re-wind” on their deepest lows that they hit, playing a scene backwards and in slow motion, as well as from a slightly different perspective, suggesting a sense of regret and that things could have happened differently, if…

Roger Avary has quickly become a point of trivia in having shared Quentin Tarantino’s co-screenwriting Oscar for Pulp Fiction (1994), which is pretty much his claim to fame. His only other feature film, 1994’s dire Killing Zoe, was awful. The Rules of Attraction is considerably better, but still not that great of a film, I would say. But I did find it more tolerable than I was expecting, which I think is due to the fact that the film maintains a sense of humor in its lurid depictions.

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