Getting lost in the desert is not something I ever have in mind!
Written By: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon & Gus Van Sant
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant is a lightning rod for polarization. He is capable of making more conventional films, but when he decides to be artistic in his approach he creates a great divide among people who see his films. Movies like Paranoid Park and Elephant have detractors as they do ardent supporters. However, no film Van Sant has ever directed is as polarizing as Gerry. There were people who walked out of the theater upon seeing it and declared it a useless waste of time. Others happily proclaimed it yet another masterpiece from the acclaimed director. I think I have written enough reviews by this point that you, my readers, should know where I will fall on this issue.
The story in Gerry is simple, two friends get lost in the desert and walk, and walk, and walk to try and get out of the desert. One survives, and that is all there is to the story. It moves straight forward, never deviating for any ulterior plot lines or excursions. From a pure storytelling standpoint the trek through the desert is all that matters. The banal nature of their journey doesn’t leave much in the way of drama, the most dramatic moments are more matter of fact than full of drama. But, there are moments of comedy, hilarious and off kilter comedy at that. An episode with Casey Affleck stuck on top of a boulder or Affleck reciting his latest exploits in some MMORPG were particularly hilarious. Gerry may be Van Sant’s most idea driven film, but he still has time for some real comedic moments.
Where the crux of the problems most people have with Gerry arise are in the lack of action. Nothing happens in the story other than some of the comedy and a lot of walking through the desert. If one takes Gerry only for its story then it wouldn’t be that good of a movie. But, Gerry is an idea movie, one that is meant to stir thought in the viewer. For some that isn’t enough and even some people who love thought provoking cinema found Gerry too much to take in. I obviously disagree and found the idea points of Gerry to be extremely compelling.
There are numerous ways that one can take the themes of Gerry. At times I felt it was speaking to the relative tininess of humanity in comparison to the scope of the world we inhabit. In the grand scheme of things humanity is but an ant on the landscape of the world. The large and daunting visuals help to enforce this theme, always driving home how small we are compared to our surroundings.
Another prevalent theme I found was one of our lives and the confusion we face. When Matt Damon and Affleck decide to go off the oft trodden path it represents us when we go off the path our lives are supposed to take. The confusion and struggle to stay alive is an allegory for what we go through as we try to make a life for ourselves outside of the preplanned paths and choices. In the end we make a lot of choices once off the destined path, some good and some bad. The final car ride of Damon is reflective of what we can do after we have made these choices, look back and, ahem, reflect.
The movie is framed by the cinematography of Harris Savides. From the get go when Damon and Affleck are turning into the parking lot in their car and are bathed in light Gerry looks magnificent. That scene is followed by over an hour and a half of impressive visuals. I know there are some who will refer to the outdoor cinematography as nothing but shrubs and foliage shots. But, as I said the vast expanse of the cinematography ties into the themes of Gerry. If nothing else, Gerry is a beautiful film to look at.
An area in Gerry that is a bit abnormal for a Van Sant artistic picture is the acting. Lately he has relied mainly on non-actors, but for Gerry he welcomes the abilities of Damon and Affleck. In a lot of ways Gerry could be seen as the last artistic film by Van Sant with known actors before Elephant and Paranoid Park came along with their focus on non-actors. Damon and Affleck don’t have a lot of dialogue, but when they do talk they are believable. They are funny, they sound desperate, they become not characters but a real pair of guys lost in the desert. However, where the two men really shine is in the moments where they don’t talk. Gerry relies on their facial expressions and body mannerisms, if they weren’t able to express their emotions through those methods then you wouldn’t have much of a movie. Luckily both men are up to the task and let us know all we need to about their plight through their eyes, faces and body gyrations. Matt Damon’s final scene in the car not only ties into the theme of Gerry, but is a great piece of acting where he speaks volumes with his eyes alone.
I did love Gerry, although I will admit this didn’t happen upon first viewing. I had to think about the film for a bit and then return to it. I didn’t discover anything significant in the second viewing, although little things are always discovered upon a reviewing, but rather the second viewing helped to solidify the thoughts floating around in my head after the first viewing. I can’t recommend Gerry to anyone, it’s not the type of film you recommend. I advocate watching it, but fully understand it’s not a movie for most people. It’s more stark then other Van Sant pictures and only for those who are can accept a slow pace and a movie where nothing physically happens. You have to glean allegories and ideas from the lack of story. Watch Gerry if you want, I loved it and that’s the best I can do for you.