The last time Elliott(Leo Fitzpatrick) saw Matthew(Richard Gallagher), they were both little kids at an orphanage, harboring dreams of parental love. Matthew got lucky; he went home, but for Elliott, finding a home became an ongoing search. He stayed in houses, while Matthew collected soccer trophies and majored in journalism at college. But that was then, and this is now. Dressed in a black suit and tie, Elliott is still that little boy, trying to make a good first impression, trying to be loved, when he shows up at the front door of his dying friend he hadn't seen in twenty years. Elliott is lost, looking very much like the Harry Dean Stanton character in Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas" in his formal attire, but with one crucial difference: Travis Henderson had intended on staying lost, roaming the flat prairie lands of Texas, whereas Elliott wants to be found. In the Wenders film, Walt(Dean Stockwell) has to convince his wanderlust brother to get in the car, while in "El Camino", a road movie about angsty white people that doesn't get its angst in your pants, Elliott begs Gray(Christopher Denham) and Lily(Elisabeth Moss) after the funeral to let him be the third wheel on their journey to Mexico, where Matthew's best friend and ex-girlfriend plan on scattering his ashes into the Pacific.
"I had a great life," says Matthew, whom Elliott shoots with his video camera, just as he did back at the orphanage, shortly before his old documentary subject passes away. The video camera is how Elliott participates in life, purely as an observer who points his lens at things of interest; an outsider trying to make a connection with other people, living vicariously through his recorded images. At one point during the trip, inside Gray's house, the spoiled rich kid calls him "Spielberg", an appropriate moniker, since the Elliott in "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" was looking for a friend. When Lily coaxes Elliott to surrender his camera for an interview, he becomes the subject, perhaps for the first time since Matthew interviewed him as kids. He finally becomes a thing of interest, this orphan, who the moviegoer suspects has never loved, or been loved. Since film-making is how Elliott connects with people, this burlesquing of intimacy, having Lily turning the tables and filming the filmmaker amounts to having Elliott's attempts at intimacy being reciprocated. He's being "stripped" in front of a stripper; he's naked. When Lily kisses Elliott, he doesn't know what to do, because this orphan has spent his whole life recording life instead of living it. At the final destination, a beach in Mexico, after Elliott parts ways with Gray(the angst-ridden rich kid with daddy issues), and Lily(the angst-ridden, chain-smoking exotic dancer with mommy issues), the formally-attired "boy" takes off his shirt and walks toward the ocean. Since, in all likelihood, there's nobody to watch his film, he doesn't bother recording his homecoming. (The final scene is open-ended; it might, or might not be a suicide attempt.)
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