The Forest from the Trees in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance narrates how the different characters and stories that make up THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES came together in the creation of his epic film.

Q: Ultimately, what do you see The Place Beyond the Pines as being about? Derek Cianfrance: It's about legacy- what we're born with and what we pass on. It's about the choices we make and how those choices echo throughout generations. It's a classic tale of the sins of the father being visited upon the son.

Q: Does this picture relate to your previous films?


It does, in that I am drawn to tell stories about families. My first film,

Brother Tied

, was about brothers.

Blue Valentine

was about husbands and wives.


is about fathers and sons. A theme that runs through




is the nature of masculine identity, reinvention or transformation of the self for a man over a period of time.

I feel that the cinema is a place where secrets are told. It's a place where we can travel to intimate places, to homes and bedrooms, and can witness private moments that reflect our own lives. Whereas Blue looked at this intimacy - a singular relationship - under a microscope, I wanted a larger palette and a larger scope for Pines.

This movie tells three linear stories: a motorcycle stunt rider turns to a life of crime to support his newborn son, an ambitious rookie cop takes on a corrupt police department rather than confront his own demons, and two troubled teenage boys confront the mysteries of their past by battling each other.

Q: Going in sequence, how did Luke's [played by Ryan Gosling] story take shape?


: Well, a number of years ago when Ryan Gosling and I were preparing

Blue Valentine

, it came up that there was this fantasy Ryan always had - robbing a bank, on a motorcycle, and then making a very specific getaway. I said, "You've got to be kidding me, I'm writing that movie right now." He said, "I'm in!" We had both imagined it in an identical way. That was one of several moments when I knew Ryan and I were meant to make more than one film together.

Q: What did the concept evolve into, for his character?


Luke is a guy who has this dark and mysterious past. He's seen and done a lot, and had a lot happen to him. He's damaged, wounded- a person who is kind of covered, not necessarily in scars, but in these tattoos that are signs of the pain he has experienced. This comes across in the one on his face; he's marked by that and he lives with it. He's like a big cat in a small cage. This is the kind of guy that 1960s girl groups like the Shangri-Las used to sing about. He's a bit of a walking contradiction - wounded and scarred on the inside, but with a wall of armor on the outside; the muscles, the hair...Ryan and I talked about how Luke gets lost in his own self-mythologizing.

Luke performs in a traveling motorcycle show, bringing his pain from town to town, from girl to girl, from heartache to heartache. The show comes back to this place he'd been a year earlier, Schenectady, NY, and he finds that a woman he'd had a fling with there, Romina [played by Eva Mendes], has had a baby. The moment he sees the baby, the moment the baby sees him, changes the course of his life forever. Here's a guy who is clearly tainted, and he sees this thing that he created, this thing that is pure and that has no hate, no cynicism, no marks; he doesn't even feel like he can hold the baby because it's so clean. And in that moment his life suddenly has purpose, it has meaning. While he has no real skills to be a father, he becomes a force of love - and that is a dangerous force.

Romina is torn. She loves this guy. But she knows he's unsafe and so she must choose between security and love, between her son and his father.

Q: Luke's story is not yet concluded when we meet Avery (Bradley Cooper).


That's right; I have always loved Alfred Hitchcock's


, and how the movie managed that amazing hand-off from Janet Leigh to Tony Perkins as the protagonist. I wanted to do something similar. I also wanted to show real consequences to the characters' actions, especially once guns come into the story. There is a glorified gun culture in movies and in this country; I wanted to explore the effect, the aftermath.

Q: How does Avery get to the point where we meet him, and then afterwards?


This is a guy who, since childhood, has had the ability to see and find his way. He's been the high road example, known and renowned for his best traits: a good fellow, popular, fair, honest, truthful, strong, high IQ. Avery has been born into this small city's royalty, being the son of a powerful judge [played by Harris Yulin]. Everyone in his life - his dad, his college sweetheart [played by Rose Byrne] who he's married - assumes that Avery will follow in his father's footsteps. Only Avery wants to be his own man. Against his father's wishes, he has dropped out of law school to build himself from the ground up. Nobody understands why he would resist the silver spoon. So when we first meet Avery, he is a 28-year-old rookie cop... and, on duty, he makes a mistake. That creates a toxic shame in him, one which he can't speak about. He is now in a state of being wrong for the first time and is painfully aware of his guilt. Meanwhile, the world considers him a hero and so he feels like even more of a sham, and inadequate.

This inner conflict creates a gulf in Avery's relationship with his wife and young child, and also puts him at odds with growing corruption at work. So he must choose: battle against the demons inside him, or go to battle against people in real life? He decides to bury his own problems and focus on problems in the world. So he goes out and he does good things. But to not heal the wounds inside himself and to try to fix everything else around him is a tragic flaw, one which will haunt him.

Q: These are two very different characters. How about the actors playing them?


They are both much more than actors in this film, they are true collaborators. Ryan and Bradley both have tremendous instincts for character and story and dialogue, and they are both brave enough to go to the vulnerable places I needed them to go to up on the screen. They each do a lot of research and go the distance for you.

Ryan has this incredible presence and charisma on-screen and in real life. He's inherently interesting and cinematic, but he also makes everyone around him better. I have learned so much from him, and feel incredibly fortunate each time I collaborate with him. Now we have more of a shorthand, and can get at what we want even faster.

When I met Bradley, I saw that he had the same kind of charisma that Ryan has. But the thing that sold me on Bradley more than anything else was how hard he worked. After meeting with him a couple of times I went back to the script and reworked the character, because I knew Bradley could go deeper than I originally had in mind.

I think the reason Pines works is because Ryan and Bradley are not only movie stars and great actors, but also compelling human beings. Each brings a different energy to the movie, creating a balance and also a dichotomy.

Q: Can you contextualize the third story, set 15 years after the earlier ones?


In a way, the first two acts of this movie serve as prologue to the third. It's in the third part of the film where legacy, what the movie is about, comes up.

Luke's son Jason [played by Dane DeHaan] is a kid who has grown up in a warm home. He has a good mother, a good stepfather, a lot of love in his house. But there's something missing from his life and he knows it. He has been lied to and protected from a truth, and that mystery won't let him go. He's heroic because he searches for that truth even if it will destroy him.

Avery's son AJ [played by Emory Cohen] is a kid who seemingly has a lot: born into money, he has his mother's love and attention. What he doesn't have - and hasn't had - is his father present in his life.

So both of these boys are missing a father, and they each deal with it in different ways. AJ doesn't really have a connection with his father; he's hurt by that, and everything he does is a scream for attention from his dad. He puts up barriers to act as if he is not hurting. AJ is a tragic character. He's this over-privileged kid who is popular but is filled with self-loathing and self-hatred. He has a lot of the qualities of his father.

Q: How hard was it to cast these two roles?


I auditioned over 500 kids. Picking up from where Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper leave off in the movie is a mighty task. Very late in the casting process, I found Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Working with them was thrilling because they are both so good and so fresh.

Just as Ryan and Bradley are opposing dualities, so too are the boys. I remember the first audition I had with Dane and Emory opposite each other, this discussion of their favorite actor was. It turned into a fight, Dane insisting on James Dean or Al Pacino and Emory insisting on Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro. I figured that this conflict could carry over into the movie; once we got on the set, I'd just let that dynamic go!