Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines: Life in the Waning Years of the American Empire

Let's face it, right now we are in a "film slump" with very few movies of any quality or meaning being released however there are still a few goodies that pop up every now and then.  One of those films is "The Place Beyond the Pines" which I just saw today. The namesake of the film is apparently the Native American meaning of Schenectady where the the film was shot. For those of you who are familiar with this area, you will find the film is very much connected to the real life struggles of poverty, corruption, bad economics and crime that seems to have entrenched itself in that region. If you need more background on the region I suggest reading some of Jame's Howard Kunstler's work (

During the spring and summer of 2012 when I was still living in the Hudson Valley Region of New York (Near Albany/Schenectady) I had heard stories and rumors about a new drama movie being filmed in downtown Schenectady starring Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling. This year I finally learned that the film "The Place Beyond the Pines" was the one rumored about last year so in remembrance of my former region I decided to watch it. I have to say, I was surprised, shocked and pleased all in one.

The film begins with a seemingly simple plot where the main character Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a locally-famous motorcycle stuntman working in a traveling act for state fairs. While the fair is in Schenectady, Glanton is visited by his ex-lover, Romina, and learns that he is the father of her son. Glanton quits his job as a stuntman to stay in town and provide for his child, but Romina does not want him in the child’s life, as she has become involved in a relationship with another man, Kofi.

However, things turn dark pretty quickly. Initially Luke meets a man named Robin while out riding his motorcycle in the woods and eventually begins to work for him doing various kinds of manual machine work. Later on a sort of wager is placed when Luke mentions he needs to make more money. Robin suggests he rob a bank utilizing his motorcycle skills. At first Luke is offended and taken aback but Robin suggests he has already successfully accomplished this feat years before and that Luke of all people would be quite talented in that arena with his motorcycle skills.

So off Luke and Robin go in a spree of bank robberies throughout the Hudson Valley region. When Luke pays a visit to Romina's place to build a new crib for his son with his new found money he gets into a fight with Kofi, bloodying his face, and winds up going to prison where he built up his rap sheet further. When he gets out he wants more action robbing banks but Robin is suspicious and weary - he knows when to quit.

Luke attempts another robbery with a new motorcycle he purchased after Robin scrapped his old one. This time however things take a turn for the worse, figuratively and literally. The cops are notified quickly and chase ensues. Eventually Luke is trapped in house he randomly breaks into while the cops give chase. Luke's final moments are spent on a phone where he calls Romina to tell her not to lie to her son about him, knowing his final fate. The cop, Avery Cross, played by Bradley Cooper, kicks in the door to the room Luke is bunkered down in and fires the first shot, killing Luke who manages to get a shot off himself as he falls out the window. Cross too is injured, having been shot in
the leg.

When Cross awakes in the hospital the film's true plot begins. Suddenly we are introduced to several new characters including Cross's father, a prominent local politician, corrupt fellow police bureaucrats and officers (played by Harris Yulin, Ray Liotta and Bruce Greenwood) as the story makes it's way through the next generation. Bradley is initially questioned by internal affairs who need to deem the shooting legitimate even though it wasn't. In a sense, we are made privy to the corrosive forces within police departments - the pressures to heroicize the un-heroic and demonize the application of true justice. Everything is perverted and twisted inside this machine culminating in Cross being taken out on an illegal search and seizure where they essentially force themselves into Romina's house under the threat of deporting Romina's mother (who is clearly an immigrant). They then seize money that Glanton left for his son - now gifted to Officer Cross who is clearly uncomfortable with the unlawful entry and seizure.

Cross decides to come clean initially trying to give the money back to Romina who refuses it, cursing him as the killer of her son's father. Later however he brings the money forward as evidence to be used against his fellow cops in corruption cases. This coincides with internal struggles he is having within his own karmic nature. Having difficulty looking at his own son he is constantly reminded that he robbed another son of the life of his father - he now wants to help make the world a better place and rid it of the corruption he sees around him. He has been awoken internally but is trying to fight his own good intentions and this is very much apparent throughout the film. However, his desires are unwanted as the entire Police Department turns against him and he must find a way to not only preserve his career but possibly his life - at one point in the film it appears that Ray Liotta attempts to lure him into the woods on a backcountry road after which Cross backpeddles in a hurry. Finally after talking to his father he concocts a scheme, a wild crazy and risky one, that results in the entire police department being ratted out on corruption charges as he is lifted to the ranks of D.A. through an act of blackmail.

The film fast forwards 15 years with the two sons as older teens in high school who become friends not knowing the identity of the other. As the plot thickens these two youths are caught up in their own struggles, AJ (the son of Avery Cross) and Jason (the son of Luke Glanton) become friends not knowing the true identity of the other. As time goes on and various drugs are smoked and ingested, run-in's are had with the cops and break-ins to pharmacies occur, we are taken to a pivotal moment which I will not reveal. However I will say that the film seems to end on somewhat of a positive note.

So what's happening here? Well, as I mentioned we are perhaps for the first time, given a glimpse of what the power of the badge really means and the inner machinations of Police Departments with their own "Codes of Honor" that are very different from what we the public are told. I believe the film is directly questioning the "Fraternal Orders" of modern man (i.e. police departments, politicians and perhaps even Free Masonry) by questioning both their efficacy as well as their intention to deliver any true form of justice in the world. Slowly but surely the US is sinking into an abyss of anti-constitutional, bureaucratic and legal technocracies as well as deeply entrenched corruption that seems to be metastasizing before our eyes with no clear remedy in sight. This film, in my opinion, provides a warning shot across the bow to those corrosive and corruptive forces in our governmental, judicial and law enforcement branches that even if they are granted the absolute forms of power they seem to be seeking, the horrific karma they are creating from these events will come back to haunt them. That is because in part, all the crime and corruption we participate in is in fact a "zero sum" game. The film makes it clear that each crime, each act of betrayal, has a repercussion that can come back, both psychologically and in actuality, to haunt the perpetrator of these misdeeds in the future. I would urge ALL law enforcement officers and public officials (elected or otherwise) to heed this warning.

Now that I have moved on from life in the Hudson Valley I frequently tell people about how corrupt the police are known to be in that region so I don't think it was a coincidence in the least that this area was chosen for the location of the film. I recall one trip to work where I passed no less than nine state troopers on the side of the highway in a mere four miles (five of which had pulled someone over and one of whom tailgated me illegally before moving on to someone else). This region is brimming with testosterone-doped, jack-booted officers ready to not read you your rights and send you off to the local Kangaroo Court where you will be subjected to all kinds of absurdities like not having the right to contest your speeding ticket, being forced to stand in line for your "hearing" (which really isn't one btw) or being told it is illegal to have your cell phone on (it isn't) while an officer paces up and down next to the queue.

Some of the fundamental pillars of a civilized and free society have really broken down in that particular region of the US in spite of GE's presence in Schenectady (also hinted at in the film) which seems to do virtually nothing for the economy there - one that isn't recovering (for more in this topic see This malaise is also mirrored in nearby Albany which is known to be one of the most corrupt State Governments in the US - one quickly gets the sense from living there that it's all "who you know" and not about why you were elected or put into a position of power in the first place. And if you want some really creepy stuff to dig into about the region, read David Wilcock's stories about supposed "Illuminati" activity ( near where he grew up in Scotia New York (just across the river from Schenectary and the location of Cross's house). I will say no more on that topic.

So if you haven't seen it yet, go watch it because this is a film worthy of an Oscar of one form or another in my humble opinion....

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