4 April 2004 | Buddy-51
odd, disturbing film
Gus Van Sant's `Gerry' is a bit like `The Blair Witch Project' minus the sensationalistic, supernatural elements. In this two-character film, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (both of whom co-wrote the film with Van Sant) are buddies who decide to go hiking in the desert. When Damon offhandedly suggests leaving the trail, the decision turns out to be a fateful one for the both of them. The young men are both named Gerry, an appellation which turns out to have allegorical significance, since `gerry,' we are informed, is slang for `mistake.' And these guys sure come up with a beaut.
Like `Blair Witch,' `Gerry' taps into the almost primordial fear humans have of being lost in unfamiliar, hostile territory bereft of even the most rudimentary supplies necessary for survival. It also shows how even the most seemingly insignificant decision a person makes can wind up having fatal ramifications in the end. Despite the fact that the film runs a little over 100 minutes, the three screenwriters have opted to have the characters speak as little as possible, both before and after the fateful decision. Although this does prevent us from really getting to know the men in any great depth, the purpose of the filmmakers seems to be not so much to craft a narrative-driven drama but to create a kind of lyrical tone-poem about fate and the ways in which people face the inevitability of impending death. As director, Van Sant lingers long on both his images and his scenes, probably too long for many in the audience, who may well become restless and impatient long before the closing shot has faded from the screen. Personally, I found the rhythm and the pacing of the film to be both hypnotic and entrancing. There's an immense sadness that hangs over the film, enhanced by the starkness and bleakness of the setting and the grimness of the subject matter. Damon and Affleck turn in subtle, taciturn performances, relying on body language and facial expressions rather than words to convey their thoughts and fears. Arvo Parte has also provided a brooding, melancholic score that enhances the atmosphere of the film.
`Gerry,' is occasionally self-conscious, frequently padded and often maddeningly superficial in the way it fails to develop its two characters. Nevertheless, the film has an amazing ability to draw you into its world and to haunt you long after you've seen it.