“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.” – Bret Easton Ellis
Coppola’s “Somewhere,” opens with Johnny Marco, played by Steven Dorf, driving in circles around a race track in his expensive black Ferrari. After several laps, he slows to a stop, exits the car, and walks out of frame.
Back in the dark refuge of the Chateau Marmont, Johnny is lost in a cloudy haze of sex, drugs, disinterested peers, and a broken arm. Clearly he has hit the high point in his career (scripts sit in piles on a nightstand, an agent named “Marge” mothers him). Inside his hotel room, however, Johnny descends into the darkest depths of his isolation. Monotony has come to characterize his entire life. Nothing holds value. Bruised by a never-ending hangover, he is unsettled by malicious text messages from an unknown number.
As light pours into his hideaway suite, he awakes to find his daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning) signing his cast. Her smile immediately makes him smile. She is the light of his life, his saving grace, the only thing that makes sense.
Although Johnny and Cleo share few words throughout the course of the film, there are tiny moments in which we are shown the magnetic bond that exists between them. Words, Coppola shows us, are inconsequential in this type of surreal father-daughter alliance. How do you ask an 11-year old for forgiveness?
What matters is the quiet energy created in the car on their way to the Ice-Skating rink, the looks of endearment they give each other when the other isn’t looking. In their shared silence they find peace and security.
In fact, the only time Johnny appears genuinely content, the first time we really see him enjoy the present, is after he rejects yet another offer for casual sex and instead has dinner with Cleo in the lobby. What is most heartbreaking here is our knowledge that these happy times are strictly temporary. Cleo must leave for summer camp. Johnny must return to his contract.
Alone and confused, Johnny cries out to his ex-wife for help. But there is nothing she can do. At one last attempt of redemption, Johnny plans an escape. Leaving the vast metropolis behind, he drives into the emptiness of the desert. His car runs out of gas and he begins walking. Perhaps he has finally found his way off of the race track for good – we will never know for sure.