Monday 1 August 2005

Gerry (2002) - ickleReview (DVD)

Minimalist Gus Van Sant movie starring Matt Damon, Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) and a lot of sand. Two guys called Gerry drive into the desert and get out to follow a "Wilderness Trail" on foot, looking for what they call "the thing". It takes 7 minutes for the first words to be spoken, Van Sant putting the audience on something of a "Wilderness Trial" (sic.) of their own. The long takes reveal, slowly, that Gerry and Gerry have "gerried" a turn, losing their way in a barrenness of dry shrubs and tumbleweed, devoid of any landmarks by which to navigate.

Initially their mood is amusal. They spend a night by the fire, smoking and talking nonsense. Affleck's Gerry talks about what sounds like a roll-playing computer game such as Civilization or SimCity, in which he conquered Thebes, but then was overrun in a revenge attack when he couldn't grow wheat and consequently couldn't raise an army because he only had 11 horses when he needed 12. Another time they talk about a gameshow sounding like Wheel of Fortune where the contestant can't guess the final lettering in "BARRE_ING DOWN THE ROAD", guessing "Y" instead of "L"

There is a comic sequence when they agree to split up and return to "the spot" if neither of them finds anything. For a few terrible moments, we fear that they have lost each other. Eventually, with a long shot of Damon with Affleck in the foreground, they come back together - only problem being that Affleck is stranded on a high rock outcrop. Damon has to build him a "dirt mattress" to break his fall - a terrifying moment, farcical and frightening.

In one shot of 7 minutes' length, the landscape is like the planes of Death Valley at sunrise, turning them from silhouettes into colour and the sand into what looked like ice. In another, we see the Gerrys' heads side on, bobbing up and down in synch, then out of synch, one eclipsing the other, then revealing it again; accompanied by the scrunch of their boots, urgent through the gravelled sand. The takes are as drawn-out as 2001: A Space Odyssey with landscapes reminiscent of Kubrick's Fall of Man.

As they get further and further lost, they talk less, yet Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides convey their characters' inner frustration, partly by replicating it in the audience, who must show patience and a willingness to let the shots develop. If they do, they will be rewarded with a surprising beauty - much like Van Sant's Elephant, which was to follow a year later.

SPOILER WARNING! Towards the end, when both are collapsing from exhaustion and thirst, Damon crawls up to Affleck as if to hug him in consolation, yet appears to suffocate him - presenting the audience with a mirage equivalent to what both wanderers themselves have been suffering.

Nugget: director Gus Van Sant at his best: fiercely independent, not worried about commercial success. A great kidname for this movie would be My Own Private Idiolect, in honour of Van Sant's earlier movie and this one's private language between the Gerrys.

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