Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Gerry (2002)

Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)

Right after three commercially viable and successful films, one of which earned him an Oscar nomination (Good Will Hunting, 1997), it's very surprising that Gus Van Sant follow it up with a film like Gerry. Gerry is basically a film about nothing, but despite that, it's always fascinating. From the lengthy opening sequence of two guys (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) driving past the highway accompanied by the music of Arvo Pärt, you instantly get hypnotized by the alluring non-predicament. Once the enchantment of filmed car rides wears off, Van Sant instantly brings you back to mundane Earth by having the two men alight their car and follow a track. Everything seems normal (they even meet fellow trackers which they return a friendly hello to), until the predicament of this non-predicament film creeps in. The duo gets lost in the middle of Death Valley.

The rest of the film is a repetitive sequence of the two walking past the rocky landscape or the barren desert, and again, despite that, it's still very fascinating. There are occasional breaks in the repetition. Conversations between the two are captured. These are mostly discussions on mundane non-topics yet in these conversations we gather that both of them are named "Gerry." Yet, we are really unsure of that since the characters use "gerry" so many times that the term might not even mean their names, but some kind of a mysterious code which we might never ever find out. The breaks also have moments of humor: One of the guy finds himself "rock-marooned" and insists that the other guy make him a dust mattress so he won't break his ankle. Other than that, it's mostly quiet and dull sequences of them walking, and the brown landscape baking.

Is the film, like the surroundings it shows, lifeless? Not really. In fact, despite the fact that the austere plot is stretched to fill up the running time, there's a gradual growth in Van Sant's visual pallette that I find very interesting. Little by little, the landscape's life is sucked by the two characters' eventual demise. Green plants disappear, tumbleweeds make an entrance, and everything becomes deathly white. In one surreal sequence, we find the two walking in an uncomfortable stance and pace amongst the paleness of their surroundings. Again, it's a very quiet moment but is not without the thunderous gasps for life, the only reminders that they are not zombies but actual human beings who find themselves dying in the middle of the Death Valley.

That troubling scene is repeated by Van Sant in his next feature Elephant (2003) wherein one of the students would play a computer game where the characters being shot and killed look frighteningly similar to the dying men in Gerry amongst the bare desolate backdrop. It's almost exactly the same, except for the fact that in Elephant, the two Gerry's are transformed into bitmap images, but in the same way, are unwitting targets of the unpredictability of death. We later know that the computer images being shot are representative of their victims in their planned shooting spree in their school. In Gerry, death arrives in casual and almost luxurious fashion, spending almost two hours of relaxed and gradual pacing to sink its teeth in its victims' sorry necks.

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