Less Than Zero

September 18, 2013

It must be emphasized that this film is a loose adaptation of the novel of the same name. To even consider it loose is even a ripping stretch. The only parallels between the two stories are the character names and the context: the anxiety of young rich nihilists.


The novel is much more graphic and portrays much more complicated characters than what amounts to in the film. What is visualized is a vain attempt at trying to portray the disintegration of a functioning friendship six months after high school graduation. And charmingly, the cause of this entire disarray is the first taste of real living by the schooled fishes.


By tasting saltwater for the first time, the character played by Robert Downey Jr. achieves a pinnacle of existential anxiety. He apparently has never had to struggle his entire sheltered life not of privilege – as that has connotations of responsibility – but of decadency, typical of a 90210 upbringing. His first efforts outside of the post-natal womb that gestates for 18 years resulted in cataclysm to his meek soul. Drugs and prostitution to pay for his drugs become his way of self-medication.


The film makes no effort to present us any semblance of the strength of their relationship beforehand, or the depth of the emotional crisis Clay, the protagonist, enters into once their sheltered world ends. Regardless of the robotics of Clay and Blaire, the film and its more genuine source exemplify the absurdity of a child-rearing or human developmental regime that even the affluent cannot escape. That is to say, separating young humans from the conditions of living, keeping them in isolation from what living is, sets them up for self-annihilation. Granted, Less Than Zero is rhetorical on this point. And it’s even bad rhetoric because it can’t energize the film with the predicament of failing, the predicament of being human and no longer infants which subsist off of the world for existence.


All this to say it demonstrates another tentacle of the Last Man in his strong-armed determinism of human history.


Grade: C



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