15-year old Howie Blitzer stands on the railing of a bridge on Long Island Expressway (L.I.E.) and watches the fast-moving cars below. In a voice-over, we hear him say:

“On the Long Island Expressway, there are lanes going east, lanes going west, and lanes going straight to hell.”

Howie is contemplating taking the lane going to hell. If he jumps off, he will die – if not from the impact, then by being run over by the extremely fast cars on the expressway. He decides to step down and not kill himself.

L.I.E. 1

L.I.E. (2003) is a film about a teenager who lives with his father in one of the houses by the Long Island Expressway. Howie’s mother died many years ago and his father spends his time busy at work. Howie’s father has a girlfriend who he brings over every night and Howie can hear them having sex, with a mix of hatred for his father having replaced his mother, and attraction for the sexual act that he has never experienced but for which his body longs.

Lost and unsure of himself, the young adolescent has for friends a neighbourhood gang who break into people’s homes and steal for the thrill of it. In their mechanised existence of home and school, these boys manage to feel strongly alive when they break into a house, the burglar alarm rings, and they have just a few minutes to collect stuff and run away.

After a series of events, Howie comes to know Joe, a war veteran in his 60s. Joe is a pedophile. Calling Howie to his house, in a scene with explicit pornography playing in the background, Joe gives Howie a choice – be reported to the police for his burglaries, or do sexual favours  to Joe. Howie leaves, not knowing what to do. In the days that follow, Joe approaches Howie and they develop an easy camaraderie despite Howie’s fears. Joe lets Howie drive his expensive car, something Howie’s father has been procrastinating about. When Howie’s father is arrested for a corporate crime, Howie is left alone in big, messy house. Feeling abandoned, Howie turns up at Joe’s house, who consoles him, prepares food for him and even helps him shave for the first time, a significant act for every boy growing to be a man. Howie almost offers him to Joe for sex, but Joe is more interested in taking care of him.

A few days later, Joe is shot dead by a former lover, another teenage boy. We see Howie at the edge of the bridge on the expressway again, and he says to himself:

“On the Long Island Expressway, there are lanes going east, lanes going west, and lanes going straight to hell. But I won’t let them take me.” The film ends there, without us knowing what happens to Howie, eventually.

L.I.E. 2

L.I.E. is the story of teenage, of a search for direction in life that we all experience, and of the wretchedness that comes out of feeling abandoned by those who cared for you. The film throws us, with no explanations, into the world of a disoriented teenager who is desperately thirsty for guidance on the journey of life. A softly focused, meandering camera and wistful music convey very authentically the sadness and sense of being lost that so mark Howie’s  life.

Foul language and sexual talk do little to cover up the emptiness that Howie and his friends feel. Their bodies are changing. Making a career, marrying and bringing up a family await these young ones in the decades to come, and they are all but prepared for it. With the breakdown of old values and inter-generational ties, their existence is representative of many teenagers across the world.

The psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about adolescence as a time when one is faced with the challenge of ‘identity versus confusion’, out of which one may emerge with a healthy identity to which one has fidelity, or with either extreme of nihilism or fanaticism. We see Howie and his friends live a nihilistic life where all that matters are the immediate gratifications of crime, junk food, drugs and sex.

The film ends with hope, but does not tell us how long Howie stays with this hope. Will he go to the bridge again, and kill himself? Or will he become a druggie and sex addict like his friends, taking to a life of crime? Or will he manage to construct a productive life in work and love? We don’t know, but we feel Howie’s pain and continue to hope.

L.I.E. is a beautiful film on the various lanes that life offers us to choose from. Some are easier to meander into, given the momentum that our past has put us in. Others, often the safer and more beautiful ones, need more hard work to reach.

~ by tdcatss on May 30, 2013.

4 Responses to “L.I.E.”

  1. Kaif, you are really one of the best movie reviewers I have read. Almost as good as Ebert. Loved this one; previously, did read all your shayari and nazm related posts too. Loved it. Keep posting.

  2. thanks abhilash :)

  3. :)

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