Movie Review: Leaving Las Vegas (1995) - What happens in your psyche stays in your psyche (unless you try otherwise)
That’s their poster. Here’s the Addicaid take.
Downward spirals and charismatic casts make me sad, so sad! I cry a lot, but Leaving Las Vegas awoke me the following morning, with a hangover of tears. But you must see it!
The characters have clear purposes from the get-go, even though the reasons behind their actions are left a mystery . After losing his family and any semblance of life to his chronic alcoholism, former family man movie executive Ben (Nicolas Cage), decides that the best option is to go to Las Vegas and drink himself to death (hence the title).
The story could have just as easily been a fairytale as a tragedy. On his path to suicidal salvation, Ben encounters the sultry and selfless prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue). She’s got warm brown eyes, wavy beach blonde hair and the kindness of the most accommodating hostess in the world. She loves Ben, and you can you feel it; her special breed of affection that will sing you to sleep while you’re in a drunken stupor, forgive every human fault, and fix you breakfast in the morning because your vitamin and nutrient intake is on her priority list.
Leaving Las Vegas transcends the subject of alcoholism to something every beating heart (except perhaps that of a sociopath) can relate to: love and loss. The operatic nature of Sera’s compassion (she provides food, shelter, and plenty of pleasure) to Ben’s implacable turmoil makes this a tale of the muddy convictions of The Human Condition. Except that the focal point, unlike many great operas, isn’t love. It’s a sad desperation that provides an iota of hope while the rug of optimism slowly slips out under you.
“I think the tough times are finally behind me. There’ll always be bad things, but… my life is good. It is as I want it to be. It’s good. It’s good being here with you” Sera says in the first act. She’s thoughtful, so we can’t help but question why a hooker with such a good head on her shoulders would romance a man with such a depressing expiration date.
But backstories and believability are unimportant here. What should occupy our curiosities here is the character’s extreme intentions that are dominated by the kind of emotions any therapist will warn you not to succumb to, lest you become a victim of your Id. Sera becomes a victim of a misogynistic, violent assault as well as brashly offensive infidelity from Ben.
Inspired by John O’Brien’s first novel of the same title, Mike Figgis wrote, directed, and scored the book to screen in Super 16mm film (rather than the normally used 35mm) to imbue the movie with a more natural, less glossy feel. And he nails it!
As we all know, life imitates art, especially the bitter parts. Two weeks after selling the rights to his autobiographical novel, O’Brien killed himself after a life struggling with alcoholism.
In the final scene with Sera and Ben together, she pleases him, he makes sure she knows he loves her, and she says ‘I love you’ back.
Things go black and then Sera’s silhouette appears on the screen. She says to an out of sight psychoanalyst:
"I think the thing is… we both realized that we didn’t have that much time… and… I accepted him for who he was. I didn’t expect him to change. I think he felt that for me too. I liked his drama. And he needed me. I loved him. I really loved him."
Her self-examination is only situational, not exploratory or analytical. Just as she claims her general contentment with life earlier to Ben, beginning with the word pairing ‘I think’, she again displays her own uncertainties in this statement. And in the end, she confesses to a sort of acquiescence with Ben. Why didn’t she try to help him? He could have been helped! There is (almost) no such thing as a lost cause in the deadly depths of addiction! Unfortunately to fans of happy endings, this story isn’t about romance triumphing in the face of emotional destitution- it’s about a troubled woman’s endless capacity to care for a man on the edge who ultimately teaches her to care for herself.
And here’s the trailer. It probably won’t make you cry, so it’s totally SFW. Unless you’re like me. This is my third time crying in this post.