Sunday, September 20, 2015

Leaving Las Vegas: Analysis

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
John O’Brien (novel)
Mike Figgis (screenplay and director)
with Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue


Ben and Sera are eating. He plays with his food, eating very little of it. Finally he pushes it away and orders another drink.

SERA: I’m from the East. I went to college, did an arts course. I now live in Vegas. I think of it as home. I came here deliberately to carve out a life. I was in LA before, but I’ll come back to that later. (pause) The tough times are behind me now. I can deal with the bad things that happen. There will always be dark characters. But my life is good. It is as I would want it to be. So, why are you a drunk?

BEN: Is that really what you want to ask me?

SERA: Yes.

BEN: (worried) Well, then I guess this is our first date… or our last. Until now, I wasn’t sure it was either.

SERA: Very clever.

Sera thinks for a while and decides to give in to him on this.

SERA: First. It’s our first. I’m just concerned. So… why are you killing yourself?

BEN: Interesting choice of words. I don’t remember. I just know that I want to.

SERA: Want to kill yourself? Are you saying that you’re drinking as a way to kill yourself?

And she leans across the table to be close to him, listening intently. Ben becomes uncomfortable and tries to joke it off.

BEN: Or killing myself as a way to drink.

Sera continues to stare at him, wanting to know the real answer. He takes a slug from his drink. She sits back.

BEN: We’ll talk about it some other time maybe. OK?

Sera relaxes and continues with her food. We hear her thoughts for a moment.

SERA (v.o): It wasn’t so important to me. I mean, he never asked me why I was a hooker, and that was impressive. I really liked him. So I decided to just play my part. I mean… it’s good to help someone once in a while., it’s a bonus to being alive, and that was my plan… to stay alive. I suddenly came to a decision.


I love this movie. Cage got an Oscar. Shue was nominated, along with Figgis for screenplay and direction. It’s a classic great with a wonderful bluesy jazz track. It’s one of those rare films where everything comes together.

This scene sticks in my mind, especially the line about how killing himself is a way to drink. That line is very representative of his character. He is always jovial and light about everything, with a few exceptions of rage. But this indicates how he rationalizes and accepts his depression. He’s OK with killing himself. And it seems he doesn’t even know he’s depressed. Or doesn’t admit it. That way he can carry on life as if it’s all very acceptable.

In fact numerous great writers seem to fall into depression and even suicide. And the novel is semi-autobiographical. In writing, if you put your soul into it, it can be reflective and can bring up certain thoughts such as the general futility of life (everything ends). In Hollywood this kind of demise seems even more a rule than an exception. Success is usually short lived. It’s wonderful to face these things through this character.

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