Freestyle: Gosling’s ‘River’ a personal vision

Mar. 14, 2015 | 0 Comments
COURTESY SXSWRyan Gosling is presenting his first film, "Lost River," at SXSW.


Ryan Gosling is presenting his first film, “Lost River,” at SXSW.


Friday was my first day out at South by Southwest.

More than 50,000 people attended SXSW last year, and this year will probably draw as many eager-to-network attendees. I felt like, oh, maybe 10,000 of them were bumping along with me in the Austin Convention Center and on the sidewalks, trying to get to some of the same places I was trying to get to!

freestyle sxsw header 2015


TGIF Editor Elizabeth Kieszkowski will be blogging from Austin, Tex. during the 2015 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival. Read more SXSW posts at

Maybe 1,000 or so were trying to get into a talk by actor and first-time director Ryan Gosling with pal and veteran director Guillermo Del Toro. They lined up more than an hour before the SXSW session, snaking through the convention center’s ground floor and out onto the street.

By the time I arrived, 20 minutes in advance, there was no chance of getting into that auditorium.

Luckily for me, the conversation was simulcast via video in a ballroom-sized venue upstairs, where I caught the pair’s friendly but passionate dialogue about movie-making.

GOSLING and Del Toro were at SXSW to talk about Gosling’s first movie as a director, “Lost River.”

They formed a mutual admiration society: Del Toro praised the film as an “extraordinary first movie,” and described Gosling’s setting as an “enchanted kingdom” under thrall of a dark spell. Gosling called Del Toro an “inspiring filmmaker and friend.”

“We love some twisted, weird, strange stuff,” Del Toro said.

“Lost River” stars Christina Hendricks as a single mother in a city that is decaying, sinking, falling apart. Her son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) scrounges scrap metal and pines for a girl called Rat (Saoirse Ronan).

Barbara Steele, whom Gosling praised effusively, plays Rat’s frightening grandmother. Eva Mendes is the owner of a nightmarish nightclub. Matt Smith plays a cruel gangster called Bully.

The film makes mystical conjectures about the city’s darkness visible, but Gosling intended it to be grounded in a kind of reality. He shot much of it in Detroit, in buildings that were slated for destruction.

COURTESY WARNER BROS.Christina Hendricks stars as Billy, a single mother struggling to provide for her family, in "Lost River."


Christina Hendricks stars as Billy, a single mother struggling to provide for her family, in “Lost River.”

IN FILMING “Lost River,” Gosling said, he asked, “How far into fantasy could we go without taking it over the edge?”

At Cannes, where “Lost River” had its premiere, many critics thought Gosling went too far. The film earned negative reviews, and it will not be released widely — only in New York and Los Angeles, before it is available on demand and on DVDs.

That didn’t dampen the filmmakers’ enthusiasm in Austin — where independent-minded film-goers may give “Lost River” a better reception.

Gosling called his film a “fairy tale,” and said that format seemed to him the “simplest” way to describe what happens to cities like Detroit, which can seem to be under an “evil spell.”

“I love the film; I’m proud of it,” Gosling told the L.A. Times, when questioned about the puzzled reaction his movie inspired. “I can’t control people’s reactions to it.”

“Lost River” was personal for Gosling, the son of a single mother who said he was frightened by the predatory behavior of some men he saw “circling” his mom as a child.

Gosling grew up in Canada, across the border from Detroit, and said he was also struck by the difference between his dream of an American city and the reality of this post-industrial, bankrupt and significantly abandoned place.

The younger director remains loyal to his vision, and Del Toro obviously admires that.

 COURTESY SXSWRyan Gosling was in Austin to present his first film, 'Lost River,' at SXSW.


Ryan Gosling was in Austin to present his first film, “Lost River,” at SXSW.

As the session ended, Del Toro gave an audience member advice that could apply to Gosling — or to anyone who strives to complete a creative task: Don’t let others box you in, he said.

“Use what you are, always, as a source of pride,” Del Toro said. “And use it as a giant f— you to the world when they tell you you cannot do something.”

I DID more on Friday — checked out a talk on the future of media; was humbled and inspired by “City of Gold,” a documentary on Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic and Los Angeles standard-bearer Jonathan Gold. I’ll tell you about those later. The vision and courage shown by Gosling and Del Toro are enough to think about for now.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.


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