(Originally posted on 12/11/03)
Gus Van Sant's hypnotic Gerry is like the love child between Samuel Beckett, Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tar (who Van Sant admits was a huge influence on the film), and Van Sant himself circa 1985. Similar to the Polish Brothers' inferior Northfork, Gerry is absolutely transfixing at one moment and unbearably boring the next. Two guys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck), both of whom are called Gerry, drive out into the middle of nowhere, follow "the path" toward some unspecified "thing," and then get lost in the wilderness, where they battle exhaustion, the elements, and a disquieting sense of existential doom. The film is primarily comprised of long scenes featuring Damon and Affleck walking silently through rocky ravines and dusty plains interspersed with time-lapse images of ominous cloud formations engulfing the sky. What little dialogue is spoken is both cryptic and banal (the film was improvised on set by both actors), and there's no getting around the fact that almost nothing happens in the film -- the most action involves Affleck jumping off a big rock after ten minutes of deliberation. Cinematographer Harris Savides' camera alternates between distant panoramic compositions that juxtapose the two men against the enormous expanse of the natural world and tight shots of the actors' faces, and the best of these is a gorgeous close-up of Damon and Affleck walking at dusk in rhythmic synchronicity. With its haunting visuals (the five-minute opening sequence from behind, and then inside, a driving car is spellbinding) and eclectic soundtrack (a collage of Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel," swirling ambient sounds, and the crunching sound of footsteps), the film leaves itself open to endless interpretations. It could be about people's inability to relate to one another, a disintegrating homosexual relationship, the disconnect between modern man and nature (hinted at by the film's finale in a middle class family's minivan), the endless search for the object of desire we seek but cannot attain, or the painful process of killing part of one's self in order to become "whole" or "healed." I'm not sure I fully understand what Van Sant is after, but Gerry's trance-like inscrutability is, I think, its best quality.