The American dream is an idea that this generation barely recognizes anymore. To live carefree and happy within a community is considered and unobtainable utopia; and yet, there is beauty to be found in even the most desolate of circumstances. The documentary Bombay Beach, directed by Alma Har’El, is a true testimony to the idea that beauty and hope may be found in the broken and forgotten.
The story of this documentary follows the community that struggles to survive in the little town of Bombay Beach, California. The town itself boomed in the 1950’s, but is now a poor wasteland filled with some of the most bizarre inhabitants. Alma Har’el focuses on a few different characters to paint a picture of what happens when the American dream dies.
Benny Parish, a most compelling character, is a boy that has a brilliant mind and beautiful imagination, but is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His irregular behavior keeps getting him into trouble, and the only solution anyone has to offer is medication. Benny’s parents are slaves to the health care system and it’s taking a toll on Benny’s psyche. Alma Hal’el uses choreographed dances and scenes to depict the struggles Benny is having with his parents and friends.
Throughout the film the director uses the music of Beirut (a band she has a close relationship to) and Bob Dylan to score her cinematography of the town and the community. The music fuses effortlessly with the choreography and gives the audience a glimpse into what the characters might be thinking and feeling. The tragic beauty of the world these characters live in has a haunting and appealing quality, that is entertaining, heartbreaking and joyful all wrapped into one.