Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Ben (Nicolas Cage) was an alcoholic intent on traversing a destructive path. His wife and child left him and he was recently fired from his job so he decided to go to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. Sera (Elisabeth Shue) was a prostitute and Yuri (Julian Sands) was her pimp. When she didn’t make enough money for a night, he took pleasure in beating her. She didn’t seem to mind. For her, being hit was a better feeling than being lonely. When Ben hired Sera, it wasn’t a regular night on the job. He just wanted someone to talk to and listen to his sometimes incomprehensible words. In just one night, she seemed to have fallen for her client. Based on a novel by John O’Brien and directed by Mike Figgis, it’s easy to classify “Leaving Las Vegas” as a romance film, but I didn’t see it from that perspective. In my opinion, for there to be romance, two people had to be relatively functional and emotionally available. Ben was far from functional and he was definitely not emotionally available. I wasn’t convinced that we knew his true self. In each scene, he was either drunk with confidence or he was going through ugly withdrawals. Cage’s performance was very impressive because he had control of such an uncontrollable character. He had an organic way in terms of shifting from one intense emotion to another without ignoring the subtleties requisite to make us believe that we were still watching a person worth saving even though the beast inside him had almost completely taken over. For instance, while having dinner, Sera suggested that Ben go see a doctor. With bulging eyes, he said he wasn’t going to see any doctor with such authority in his voice, but at the same time I felt that the longer I looked in those eyes, there was nobody there. I cared for Ben but there was something about that moment that scared me. It reminded me of those times when I was about four and my father, who drank alcohol profusely at the time, would return home and act like a damn fool in the living room and my mom and I stayed out of his way. The fear I felt as I looked in Cage’s eyes was similar to the fear I felt when my father’s monster would throw furniture around the house. Was there love between Ben and Sera? I thought so. But I wasn’t convinced Ben and Sera were really in love with one another. Ben depended on alcohol and Sera depended on the feeling of having someone there. They enabled each other’s disease. One of the most beautiful things about “Leaving Las Vegas” was love, like addiction, encompassed many forms. Depending on our experiences, we were able to take a unique magnifying glass and interpret why certain scenes unfolded the way they did. But one thing was certain. It was accurate in portraying alcoholism: the temporary and fleeting illusions of joy, the ticks when the mind was hungry for alcohol, the self-loathing because loved ones left, and the crippling depression. Those who’ve never had experience with an alcoholic should see this film. It was scary in its realism.