One of the most widely disputed of Gus van Sant’s films is the 2002 movie Gerry. It’s on a lot of lists of slow, boring, uneventful and time-wasting movies. After seeing (and reviewing) van Sant’s brilliant high school shooting spree thriller Elephant, I decided to check this out and see if it was as underrated as I suspected. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Casey Affleck and Matt Damon are two men, both named Gerry, who go hiking with no supplies in Death Valley one day and get mindlessly, hopelessly lost. Starvation soon sets in, as does desperation, but don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into Alive or something like that. Gus van Sant keeps it incredibly simple, and his movie just shows the men walking, and never really getting anywhere. Sounds boring, right? Well, take it from me, it’s not. Some people might find it boring, but those with an eye for art will recognize some really amazing techniques being used here, even if some of the characters’ actions don’t make sense.
I suppose my enjoyment of the film was heightened by the fact that I went in expecting a really boring movie, but in every single minute of this beautiful movie, I was riveted. Van Sant intends it to be a character study, but the stunning visuals and flooring cinematography are the real stars. The film also makes very good use of the music of Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer. Two of his pieces appear here, Spiegel im Spiegel and Für Alina, and the absolutely haunting feel they possess makes the movie and its situation even more desolate and remote.
Sure, it’s slow-paced. The film in itself contains exactly 100 shots, and no more. Pretty incredible when you consider most films of its type contain thousands. Some of these shots are of the coldly beautiful landscape that surrounds the stranded men; some are of the men just walking; one is a shot which pans dead slowly around Casey Affleck’s contemplative face, and perhaps the longest shot in the film is near the end and features them trudging incredibly slowly, almost dead, across a vast white surface.
Yes, the movie is sombre, and emotionally evocative (especially the aforementioned use of Arvo Pärt music), but it’s fantastic. Though there is very little dialogue (especially in the second half), we learn so much about these characters, most notably a repressed homosexual bond which is never physically expressed, but hinted at ever so slightly by van Sant.
Everyone should be able to find something to look at within this small indie gem, and if you find yourself getting tired of the long shots and dully slow-pace, then re-examine it, look at it from a different angle. There is a lot of unacceptance for this film, but the simple fact is that getting lost-really, seriously lost-is not what it looks like in most movies. There are only a tiny handful of movies that really pinpoint the emotional struggle of these disastrous situations. When people think of that sort of thing, movies like 127 Hours come to mind, but when I really focus on it, the truest, most evocative film ever made about getting lost just has to be Gerry.
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Have you seen Gerry? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below. Thanks.