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Crossroads (Tamra Davis, 2002)
Broaching the topics of artistic creativity and self-definition with a level of symbolic intensity not seen in recent cinema outside of Matthew Barney’s brilliant Cremaster cycle, Tamra Davis’ virtuoso, vastly underrated epic Crossroads redefines the road movie by fitting it into the teen flick genre, leaving an eminently approachable film that speaks to the core of the modern American experience. At the start of the film, young Lucy Wagner (tenderly played by musical artist Britney Spears) finds herself on the cusp of adulthood, ready to graduate from high school. It is revealed that she has drifted apart from her childhood friends as she has aged, resulting in a bookish type of alienation in which she prepares for college and the inevitable march toward consumerist culture. A seemingly eternal virgin and social outcast, she is defined by her lack of connection with her peers and attempts to fill the void by arranging a meaningless sexual roundelay with one of her classmates. This initial mood of driftless teen angst recalls the films of Taiwanese masters Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien, but Crossroads goes farther than any of their work in extrapolating their themes.
Such political concerns are secondary to Crossroads’ truest intentions, however. The examination of the modern teen’s soul is the film’s main subject matter, and nowhere is that made more apparent than in the multifaceted allegory that places Lucy and her two compatriots in a decidedly Biblical light. The three teen friends are meant to represent the father, son, and Holy Ghost, but since Davis bravely switches their gender, she is making a complex statement about the patriarchal society that the church exists in and the ability of her heroines to challenge years of parentally imposed conformity. Mimi (Taryn Manning), the pregnant teen, is obviously, the "father", while Lucy, with her parental issues - which include her troubled relationship with her father - is meant to be the "son". Kit (Zoe Saldana) completes this chain as the "Holy Ghost", because she's black, which naturally means she has soul. In every masterfully composed shot, the mise-en-scene reveals the tension between these three and their environment. The struggle for genuine spiritual self-definition using outmoded, sexist terms becomes these girls’ existential crisis. Each pit stop they make along the way, whether at an antebellum hotel or a karaoke concert (where they invoke America's folk heritage with their rendition of "I Love Rock & Roll") is trying to show how the inescapable past threatens to dictate the present and future. In crossing the nation to find a mother who doesn't want her, Lucy’s struggle demonstrates the meaningless of America's struggle toward self-awareness with only past archetypes to guide it. Her quest for an uncaring mother becomes an allegory that encourages the audience to challenge the specter of the past. When Lucy finally reconciles her loss of her mother (and history), with the finale's stirring performance of "I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman", she acknowledges the past's influence on her while presenting an alternative to the endless cycle of American ennui. Because of the intricacy of Crossroads’ structure, Lucy's twin song renderings support many meanings, both positive and negative, for the girls and the audience. This seems appropriate given the unyielding tentativeness found throughout each frame of this masterpiece.
* * * * Mas terpiece