Mon March 31, 2003
This is one of those films that make a patient man of me and drive my plot-driven friends back to "Ahnold."
By John DeSando, WCBE's
"Desert Seinfeld," where it is really about nothing and nothing really happens. It's Gus Van Sant's "Gerry," not for Jerry Seinfeld, but for two young men, both named Gerry, who get lost while taking a hike on the "Wilderness Trail."
Comparisons to Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and Antonioni's "Passenger" will occur the minute you see Casey Affleck and Matt Damon striking out to see a "thing" somewhere on the trail in an arid Arizona or South Dakota (although expertly filmed in Argentina and Utah). The only way the DP could improve on the landscape was to time-lapse clouds and sunrises, and do some slick digitizing when a character jumps from a very high rock.
The long takes are spectacular, especially when Damon tries to extricate Affleck from the top of that "no-exit' rock. I was as pleased with the static camera and minimal editing as I often am with the realist work of Mike Leigh, who usually has much more dialogue than this minimalist film. In fact, except for the tinkling piano and violin coming in 3 times, "Gerry" could be a "Dogma" candidate.
Van Sant has directed an existential piece to rival last year's "No Man's Land," about the Bosnian soldier imprisoned on top of a spring-loaded land mine. Van Sant here questions the men's understanding of themselves or each other (their 'fuck you's" are lightly given and taken and they see one of themselves in a mirage).
By the end of the journey, they have been appropriately humbled by a powerful Nature that threatens with distant thunder but never delivers water or lightning. Whatever the "thing" they set out to find, like Estragon and Vladimir in "Godot," they do find the essential elements of life-birth, love, and death.
That's pretty good for a film with no more than a paragraph of dialogue in all. This is one of those films that make a patient man of me and drive my plot-driven friends back to "Ahnold."
John DeSando vice-chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.