Let’s make one thing perfectly clear about Leaving Las Vegas: it is a very sad, bleak movie. There is no happy ending, the protagonist doesn’t learn anything, and the love interest is the antithesis of purity. None of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into when we selected this movie out of the multitude of Nicholas Cage options but even the brief description didn’t adequately prepare us for a movie that is based off a novel many view as a suicide note.
The movie starts with Ben Sanderson, played by Cage, shopping for booze. He is happy, smiling, whistling even as he collects a cart full of spirits and beer. Watching as he cruises past rows and rows of hard alcohol with the expression of a person completely happy and in their element sets an unsettling tone for the movie that is teased out and amplified through constant scenes of all of humanity’s worst tendencies – lust, violence, rape, gluttony and prostitution just for a start. There is not one moment in the movie where things start to look up, like things are going to be OK, and that someone is about to change the course they’re on.
Throughout the ugly downward spiral of Sanderson’s final weeks, Cage is able to explore utter misery smattered with moments of beauty and pure elation. Granted, those moments of ecstasy usually come with the arrival of more alcohol, and that joy is derived from the cold touch of death drawing nearer with every bottle, but it is beauty none the less. Sanderson looks on Sera’s gift of a flask with a the same contentment the same way new parents might look at each other after the birth of their first born. There is adoration in his eyes, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s uncomfortable to look at, yet impossible to look way from. There are brief moments of happiness, albeit a happiness only an alcoholic and a whore could find, are almost immediately dashed by reality and supporting characters reminding us that what these two are up to have no redeeming values. There is nothing these two do that benefits anyone other than themselves, and their hedonism offends even the most callous observer. A taste of dialogue to help my point:
Are you desirable? Are you irresistible? Maybe if you drank bourbon with me, it would help. Maybe if you kissed me and I could taste the sting in your mouth it would help. If you drank bourbon with me naked. If you smelled of bourbon as you fucked me, it would help. It would increase my esteem for you. If you poured bourbon onto your naked body and said to me “drink this”. If you spread your legs and you had bourbon dripping from your breasts and your pussy and said “drink here” then I could fall in love with you. Because then I would have a purpose. To clean you up and that, that would prove that I’m worth something. I’d lick you clean so that you could go away and fuck someone else.
There were plenty of moments of black comedy, which suits our motley Monday Movie Night crew just fine. The scene in which Sanderson is driving and drinking vodka straight from the bottle only to have a motorcycle cop come up beside him just as he puts it down comes to mind, as was Sanderson’s falling into a glass table, filling his back with glass and exclaiming “I’m a prickly pear!” If your soul is as dark as mine must be these moments bring light to an otherwise dark, bleak exploration of a man’s dedication to his own demise.
Although the movie was bleak, it was far from a waste of time. Nick Cage shines and we were hoping to honour him on his birthweek (Happy Birthday Nicholas Cage!) and I’d say we did that. We all agreed that Cage is a tremendous actor in this role, and that the movie was very well made. There was some disagreement on whether it was a “good” movie, but from an artistic standpoint, no one can argue the value of this movie.