Place can be explored through experience, but also through film and fiction. Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film Somewhere creates new meaning for a Hollywood architectural icon.
The luminosity of the French Mediterranean’s cerulean skies led artist Yves Klein to dream of a blue so vivid it could represent freedom from restriction — the opening of infinite possibility. From this observation about the particularly entrancing depth of blue, Klein created his own iconic shade: International Klein Blue (IKB). In his eyes, color enabled viewers to “bathe in a cosmic sensibility.” What he meant by this remains up to individual interpretation.
Johnny Marco, Somewhere’s antihero, does something akin to bathing in a cosmic sensibility of blue at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont. Despondent in a tiled shower, he washes his body in a 360 degree chamber of Maya blue. In two separate scenes, this space seems to offer forgiveness for a night’s misdeeds. With each AM rinse, a chance at emerging anew presents itself. Whether the film’s protagonist actually accepts this invitation with any promise is debatable, but the moments we spend with Johnny in this calming blue shower do feel sensible and cosmic, just as Yves Klein once postulated any such moments could be — at least, theoretically speaking. In a state of sudden color immersion, these clean, marine-y scenes clue viewers into the fact that blue is everywhere.
And in the fuzzy haze of this Sofia Coppola film, recurring blue is too alluring and resonant to ignore.
Who is Johnny Marco? For starters, Johnny hasn’t been a great dad. But he has been great at ogling over leggy pole dancers in his hotel room and bumming to and from press conferences. He’s a movie star and long-term resident of the aforementioned Chateau Marmont. There, other people organize parties in his suite without his permission. Upon arrival to one such party, Johnny saunters in as if the suite does not belong to him, closes the door to his bedroom with a random woman in tow, literally passes out on her half naked body, and wakes up the next morning in a cloud of premium duvet. Early on, the film makes it perfectly clear that Johnny is unwell. And in many ways, Chateau Marmont is the ideal backdrop for his vices. If this legendary hotel is indeed Hollywood’s signature castle, Somewhere portrays Johnny as its king. Concierge services at his beck and call; topless women waiting for him to spot them from his balcony; do not disturb is always there when he needs it. It’s as if these and other hotel luxuries are Johnny’s chosen antidote for existential loneliness. In a sense, he relies on their consistency to fill a void. But even 100 years of star-powered history for this hotel isn’t enough to mean anything for his life, his future, or his afterlife. And in some way or another, Johnny realizes this. But he’s stagnant.
With all of these details as context, it makes sense the redemptive blue of this film stands out for the first time at an ice skating rink rather than at the Chateau. Johnny simply isn’t ready to see it there. And on this particular day, he is responsible for his eleven-year-old daughter, Cleo. At her ice skating lesson, she impresses him — gliding so gracefully in a shimmering, sky blue leotard to Gwen Stefani’s “Cool.” For the full duration of this song, we watch pop and pirouettes collide in the movements of an innocent preteen girl with no pretenses. She has enviable patience for a secondary caregiver who’s been too distracted to remember she knows how to ice skate at all. She’s merely content to be with him, excited to sign his cast, happy to play Guitar Hero together. Cleo’s signature color is blue. It’s in her eyes and on her striped t-shirts and in the unassuming way she approaches everything.
When she starts to play a bigger role in Johnny’s life, she helps the other blues stand out too — and particularly the blues of Chateau Marmont, where father and daughter spend the most time together. Cobalt blue tile in the kitchen, cobalt blue lamps, navy blue pool chairs, aquamarine water — sudden glimpses of Southern California’s perennially blue skies.
For all the ways living at Chateau Marmont has enabled Johnny Marco’s less than stellar behaviors, it also plays an integral role in re-establishing Johnny’s relationship with his daughter. Cleo, just now on the cusp of physical adulthood, stands in stark contrast to the clandestine debauchery of Sunset Boulevard. She brings out the best of this place, giving life to its various shades of blue. She prepares eggs benedict in the cobalt blue-tiled kitchen, inspiring Johnny to actually cook there after her departure to summer camp; she jumps into the pool and pretends to have a tea party underwater, and Johnny, more carefree with Cleo by his side, plays along. Never has a pool looked so pretty — so pale turquoise. Suddenly Johnny sees clearer with Cleo, here beneath the water, pretending to drink chlorine Earl Grey as if the past doesn’t matter at all.
Because right here and right now, it doesn’t. And for the first time in years, sprawled out on the pool chair, staring up into the blue sky, maybe Johnny’s really starting to believe in life pivots and second chances.
That’s all we can hope for, and all the Chateau Marmont can hope for, too. In this film, the celebrated hotel functions more as a character than as a setting — first accepting and understanding Johnny at his lowest of lows, only to eventually provide both him and Cleo with a place of healing. Within its walls, Johnny’s past and Johnny’s future stare each other straight in the face, emphasizing both for what they really are: the first, a pathetic excuse for happiness, and the second, a promising opportunity for continued convalescence. Mirroring this pattern, the film begins with Johnny wearing a cast. By the time Cleo’s presence at Chateau Marmont comes to an end, however, this cast is removed — right there in the very same hotel room he’d been routinely reckless in just weeks prior. That’s why the blues are so important in this space: they’ve been there all along, once representative of a stereotypical “I’m blue” sort of sadness; later, reflective of personal introspection and depth of understanding. The wisdom of blue — embodied in Cleo — is long-suffering and serene. It doesn’t ask for more than what one — on his or her individual journey — is capable of. Instead, it works with them and demands nothing. In the case of Chateau Marmont, it provides a nonjudgmental, malleable backdrop for where a person is at present, as well as infinite possibilities in terms of what that person could need or be moving forward.
No one seems very surprised when Johnny Marco decides to leave the Chateau — this time, presumably, for good. No one is upset, no one is insistent. It’s just a woman on the phone, confirming his decision, plus a friendly valet worker who hands Johnny his keys for the very last time. It’s in his tone of voice, his gait, his smile in the film’s final scene: Johnny appears to understand that he can look back on this chapter of his life without associative malice toward people, things, or place.
After the good, the bad, and the ugly, it’s also the Chateau Marmont that took him somewhere great.
Made to spend.