2002, R, 103 min. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Matt Damon, Casey Affleck.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 21, 2003
Gus Van Sant gets back to narrative basics after mucking around in the commercial wilderness of Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting. Van Sant’s sense of "basics" leads him to another kind of wilderness this time, one far removed from the experimental folly of re-enacting Psycho. This time he forays into the wilderness with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck – who play the only characters appearing in Gerry. These two go off on a hike and get lost in the desert. They are both called Gerry. End of story, more or less. This stripped-down movie is much more fascinating than it sounds, however, although there will definitely be some who find Gerry to be the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Gerry is a movie about time, and textures, and living in the moment. The movie begins – like Van Sant’s first film Mala Noche – with two men and a car. For five minutes they drive wordlessly and stare into the horizon. The sky and clouds threaten to lapse into a Private Idaho state of mind. Then they stop the car, get out, and begin to hike. "All roads lead to the thing," says one Gerry. And so they walk – at first fast and playfully, falling in step with each other, their shoes making a loud scuffling sound as their feet steadily crunch the dry, chalky dirt. There’s lots of scrub brush around, they stop to pee, they break into a run. Eventually they realize they are no longer on the course to "the thing." "Fuck the thing," declares one Gerry, and they’re both in agreement. But where does that leave them? Lost in the wilderness amid mountains and desert, with no direction home. Before you can say "Becketty, boppity, boo," these two Gerrys have entered Godot Standard Time, in which where they are going takes a back seat to the journey itself. The sound of their footsteps shuffling across the earth, their pace slowing but still in concert with the other, their breathing heavier and more parched. They totally "gerried" this adventure, as they would say. The film’s visual elements are as vivid as its aural scheme. Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides capture the odd experience in all its physicality. There is a strong, almost tactile sense of these two male bodies traversing the landscape. They are part of it, yet also at odds with it. There is no end in sight. One Gerry is perhaps more dominant than the other. A funny and unpredictable sequence occurs between two men and a big rock. The film functions like a meditative mood enhancer: the sounds, and the repetition, and the directionless trajectory all combine to allow the viewer the space for personal journeys. Like the man to whom this film is dedicated, Ken Kesey, Gerry just wants to go "further."