No Escape From the Past

In ‘The Place Beyond the Pines,’ sons pay for the sins of fathers

Director Derek Cianfrance, left, chats on the set of “The Place Beyond the Pines” with actors Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.
Director Derek Cianfrance, left, chats on the set of “The Place Beyond the Pines” with actors Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.

Welcome to Schenectady, N.Y., first settled in 1661, a city where Thomas Edison lived and worked, where the rotary engine and air brakes were born, where the police badge portrays Native Americans chasing Dutch settlers out of a burning building.

Schenectady is also the reason “The Place Beyond the Pines” — director Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to “Blue Valentine” — exists.

“You can’t shake the history,” says Cianfrance, whose wife is from the area. “When I go up to Schenectady, I feel that. It’s all there. Things actually don’t go away — there’s reverberation for entire lifetimes.”

The film, opening Friday, mirrors that as it follows Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman-turned-bank robber, and Avery (Bradley Cooper), a cop who’s after him. The story jumps ahead about 16 years, to when Luke’s son (Dane DeHaan) meets Avery’s son (Emory Cohen) and the two struggle not only with their own choices, but with those made by their fathers.

“This movie is all about legacy and, for me, it was about personal legacy,” he says. “It was about all of my feelings about becoming a father again, thinking about this child that was going to come into this world, and I just wanted him to be born without any of my past wrongdoings or sins or anything — just let him be himself.”

In the film, Avery and Luke try hard to prove they’re not the men their fathers are. Both ultimately fail. Avery, the son of a highly respected, wealthy judge, “is never meant to be a cop,” Cianfrance says. “He’s meant to be his father’s son.” As for Luke, “he grew up without a father. And now he has this kid and the last thing he wants to do is have his kid grow up the way he grew up,” he says. “So he’s going to be there for his kid, but he has no tools to do it, he has no job to make money. So what does he do? He has to overcompensate.”

The choices Avery and Luke make trickle down to their sons — Avery Jr. and Jason — who themselves are trying to break the cycle.

“They end up crashing into [history], colliding into it, and that’s what I tried to build the whole film about,” Cianfrance says. “It’s trying to escape your past, trying to escape your destiny, trying to escape your legacy, but being unable to do it.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Holley Simmons · April 5, 2013