whether due to unrealistic expectations, the watering down of characters, or playing it too safe, sequels are disappointing affairs—which is why i like imagining unintended sequels. for example, scarlett johannson’s presence in “lost in translation” makes for a serendipitous sequel to “ghost world”.
picking up five or six years after “ghost world”, “lost in translation” is a glimpse of what becomes of rebecca after high school. having outgrown enid’s unconventionality and quirkiness, and no longer sharing her affection for beautiful losers, rebecca (now named “charlotte”) leaves enid behind to study philosophy at yale.
however, the emptiness and aimlessness rebecca felt as a youth in “ghost world” has followed her into adulthood in “lost in translation”. newly married to a successful, but self-absorbed rock ‘n roll photographer, rebecca wonders, from high atop the park hyatt tokyo, where enid is now and what she’d think of her current life. in a particularly poetic parallel to “ghost world”, rebecca finds unusual solace, but doomed affection, with an older man— suggesting perhaps rebecca is not so different from enid after all.
most other ”sequels” though aren’t so neatly conjoined. but that doesn’t make, imagining a hard scrabble jennifer lawrence in “winter’s bone” growing up and moving out of the ozarks only to turn into a beautiful, but emotionally damaged, recovering sex addict living in philadelphia who loves dance in “the silver linings playbook” any less of an enjoyable exercise.
“the place beyond the pines” opens with ryan gosling blazing across a night sky performing death-defying stunts on a motorcycle. later, he burns rubber on a tricked out bike after pulling off a brazen bank heist. it seems like a pretty perfect “sequel” to “drive”.
after the parking lot slaying of mob boss bernie in cold blood, gosling flees the bright lights of los angeles to live the drifter life of a traveling carnival daredevil. in “pines”, he even befriends yet another endearing, but crooked, old soul of a mechanic to serve as a partner in crime. and once again, gosling finds himself committing crimes as an act of chivalry in service to a mother (who once again ultimately rejects him after witnessing an outburst of ugly violence).
but this sequel comes to a jarring conclusion by the end of the first act, as gosling suddenly ends up mangled in a pool of his own blood, and the perspective and narrative abruptly shifts to the ambitious young police officer who kills him. by the third act, the perspective and narrative jumps again. this time fifteen years later to examine the tragic twist of fate that brings AJ (the cop’s son) and jason (gosling’s son) together.
although there is much to untangle in this poetic fable of class, crime, masculinity, and social reproduction, my greatest joy was the realization by the end that “pines” is actually an even better prequel to “drive”.
once jason discovers the identity of his slain father, his criminal past and his motorcycle derring-do, he attempts to exact revenge upon the cop and his son. unable to carry out the execution, he quietly slips away, buys a motorcycle, and drives off into the uncertain distance to live the life of a loner— and one day, in the footsteps of his father, becomes a stunt car driver extraordinaire.
(addendum. the perfect trilogy is watching “the place beyond the pines” (coming-of-age and origin) first, then “blue valentine” (lost love, failed fatherhood, disillusionment) and finally “drive” (tragic and explosive conclusion that brings redemption along with the story arc full circle).