"Gerry" is a film about two guys lost in the desert. You could say it's about a lot more than that. Or you could say that it's not. Indeed Gus Van Sant's film has been wandering around for more than a year in search of distribution, no doubt thwarted by the difficulty people have putting this largely wordless movie into words. One word that has been used is "pretentious." And given that Van Sant let actors and real life friends Matt Damon and Casey Affleck loose to improvise as only actors can ó but probably shouldn't ó it would be hard to argue against claims of gross indulgence.
Yet there was a point where "Gerry"s relentless minimalism began to strike me as amusing. And another point where I could not deny the sheer physical beauty of Van Sant's desert. And another point where I adopted the Zen-like patience the film requires and found myself getting caught up in its oddly compelling rhythm. And by the end of the film I looked back and realized this is a film about two guys lost in the desert. Take away from it what you will. I took away a 103 minute meditation and stunning desert travelogue, and left the metaphors behind. As pretentious as "Gerry" may sound, it's perfectly capable of being taken at face value.
The tone is set in the opening scene; a car driving down a two-lane desert highway as a sparse elegy plays on the soundtrack. It's more than 8 minutes before a word is spoken and a few minutes more before Damon and Affleck say anything resembling dialogue. They are taking a break from their unarticulated journey to hike to some unspecified desert attraction. After awhile they get tired and abandon the quest. But heading back to the car they get lost. Being amiable slackers, they are not quick to panic. They don't seem overly concerned about their situation at all. They donít get angry. They donít get especially philosophical. The longest piece of dialogue is an Affleck speech about conquering Thebes, and just when you think it's an absurd little Samuel Beckett riff, you realize he's simply describing a video game he recently played. They don't ask a lot of questions, these two. They just keep walking, often silently, and the camera follows them for minutes a shot. The most notable set piece finds Affleck stranded on a rock and Damon talking him into jumping down. It's peculiar and funny and qualifies as the closest thing the film has to suspense. Unless you've managed become more worried than the characters themselves about whether they will survive the ordeal.
There is an ending to "Gerry" and it is simple and unambiguous. Some viewers will feel cheated; Van Sant, Damon and Affleck traded on their good names to conduct a personal experiment on the audience's time. But if you can sit still, forgive the pretense and roll with the camera, "Gerry" will let you get lost in the desert at no personal risk. And that makes this movie, in two simple words, a trip.
© 2003 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 2/19/03
US - 2002