My entry in the Movie Dictator Club for the month of July, 2009!
Written By: Jonathan Raymond & Kelly Reichardt
Directed By: Kelly Reichardt
I’ve often talked about the need for movies to not tell you their point, of my love of movies that let the audience form their own conclusions. Old Joy marks the second Kelly Reichardt film I have seen, the first being Wendy And Lucy, and with her style of film making Miss Reichardt is a woman after my own heart. She eschews the traditional narrative structure entirely for a slowly moving naturalistic style that relies on the astute observations of the audience. It’s hard to label her films as having any sort of story, because while there is a story in Old Joy, it’s paper thin and only serves to enhance the tone and atmosphere that Reichardt wants to get across. This type of film making isn’t for everyone, but I am a student of the Werner Herzog and Gus Van Sant style, and while they may place more emphasis on traditional narrative, their works have the same meditative, personal style as found in Reichardt’s movies.
I often struggle with how to read movies, sometimes an apple is just an apple, but other times an apple is actually famine in Ethiopia, if you get my meaning. Old Joy can be viewed as a straight friendship tale, the slowly decaying bond of a friendship long forgotten. There is plenty of depth to be found in Old Joy if the viewer chooses to only look at the film from that perceptive. However, in this instance due to the director in question as well as the framing devices used in Old Joy I found myself delving deeper into the meaning behind what was going on.
I think it’s fairly obvious that Miss Reichardt is fascinated with societal disconnect. In Wendy And Lucy she explored the disconnect in society that results from a stark economic climate. In Old Joy she tackles the idea of politics. Now, at this point I am sure any number of people are sighing and proclaiming, “C’mon Bill, just because politics were discussed on the car radio the film is all about politics, give me a break!” I understand this reaction, but at the same time I find my interpretation of the film to be perfectly in line with the sensibilities of the woman behind the camera.
Mark and Kurt’s friendship is on the decline just as the common citizen’s relationship with the political world is on the decline. In this way both men represent both sides of the spectrum. They are both the common man and the political climate, they are Jimmy Moon from Berkeley, Illinois and the Senator from Utah who represents America. There is a growing disconnect between the common citizen and the entity we refer to as America. Reichardt is in favor of using the fringe element of society to show this disconnect in clear fashion. The common citizen can’t connect to the current political world, they can’t connect with what America has become because of its politics. How can one proudly claim to be a citizen of a country when they don’t understand the policies being put forth or the process behind the entire system? Mark and Kurt show a growing inability to connect with one another and this mirrors the growing inability of America to connect to its citizens and vice-versa.
What most highlights this feeling of disconnect with America that Old Joy gives off is the lack of intimacy in the actions of Mark and Kurt. Even when they reach their most serene moment, when they are finally at the hot springs, there is a distance between them. They have reached their goal, yet that goal doesn’t bring them any closer. We hear all the time of some sort of goal that America wants to reach, yet the joy we feel from reaching said goals is less and less as every year goes by. As we reach our individual goals we don’t feel that our country cares in the slightest, what we do matters naught in the grand scale of things. I could go on and on with the parallels I found in Old Joy in the idea of this American disconnect. As I said, I’m sure a lot of people think I am reading too much into it, but I can only tell you what I took in as I watched the movie.
There’s a natural vibe behind Old Joy, in the dialogue, the cinematography, the camera movements, the acting, etc.. The drama isn’t really drama, it’s more a natural part of life, it isn’t a dramatic event engineered for the movie, it’s a natural occurrence that makes perfect sense. Old Joy, and the works of Miss Reichardt, connect with me on a visceral level because of how natural they are and how honest they feel. I love being able to come to my own conclusions, and I love a director who is willing to give me the freedom to formulate my own thoughts. For this and many other reasons I loved Old Joy and am happy to Skjerva for the dictation.