Now if Westerns have taught me anything, you don’t start out into Death Valley with no supplies or transport, it earned that name for a reason, The barren hill, the classic tumbleweed, the sage grass, the desert and the salt flats. Now If they had a horse or even a car, a canister/bottle or two of water and a compass, or even a phone we wouldn’t get lost in the first place. All of which form the single location for Gerry (2002) with a minimal cast of Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, I can’t believe this film is already 14 years old, however much these two actors have aged since it’s release the film still feels fresh. I really am getting into my minimal films at the moment which I can only say is a great thing to be finding right now.
How much like fellow blogger Dan I feel this is definitely not a mainstream film for a number of reasons which actually today make this film all the more relevant today. Sadly it more than likely wouldn’t be made today, even with two bankable actors, too risky, no built-in audience, maybe an independent might fund or distribute it? It’s not a blockbuster, or a film with much of a plot which most audiences crave, with no conventional beginning, middle and ending they switch off, Which is fair enough, its audience expectation when it comes to film narrative, there’s practically no structure apart from two guys (named Gerry) who drive to Death Valley to find something, only to quickly reconsider and turn back, unwittingly getting lost as soon as they turn around.
If anything the plot of the film is more a reflection of life, which has no conventional narrative apart from being born and dying, the rest is unwritten really. If you ask anybody who could have written the screenplay to their lives you really would be waiting a long time for an answer, they are so unique to us all, they are un-writable. Leaving Gus Van Sant with a simple an very open narrative for this unconventional film that places two much unknown men (both Gerry) who begin with so much confidence to get out of the valley in no time at all.
I soon became frustrated as they only went a few hundred metres into the valley somehow go deeper in. Instead of just turning around they go way off into the unknown of the valley. If you think about it, if they hadn’t we wouldn’t have a film. The director has pushed them out there and they have to find their way back at any cost. It’s like Van Sant was out of shot, directed them with a gesture to go in another direction, sending these two friends to potential death.
They take in all the iconic and previously filmed locations in the valley, we really are lost in the wilderness. They have nothing but the clothes on their back and some fire-making skills that keep them alive for the course of the film. Thoughts of survival can only take them so far before thirst, hunger and ultimately confusion take over. All composed through powerful yet minimal cinematography that places these two men against nature. Like two cowboys without their horses to aid them. Space is really played with to its fullest, as we are held back from them at times, taking in what is going on around them. The landscapes treated like alien world which is even filmed from all possible angles. The car journey is almost silent, what begins as a road trip becomes a need to return to civilisation. There is also minimal dialogue, kept to only the essential lines needed to push the film forward. All cliché yet vital to their situation, as if every other filmed version has informed their dialogue. There’s a scene where they are walking close to the camera that follows them, heads moving up and down almost like horses being ridden, focusing on the horses alone, in this case the two men as they are struggling to remain conscious and focused.
The film however remains focused throughout the short running time, how long can really follow two lost men for two hours before the locations are filmed. We don’t learn much about these two men who fallout with each and make up before the film’s end which left me frustrated and lost. Whilst at the same time rewarded by an ending that is as open as the film itself that allows you to consider what is going on. Your glad of the ending that is an open as the film, giving you a resolution that could be as honest as the films journey or a state of delirium as they both lose consciousness or even death. When a film is that open an audience can take whatever they want from it. The visual contents won’t change, however their meaning is open to interpretation, what more do you want in a film?