Sunday, September 23, 2012


Gerry, Gus Van Sant's improvisational/non-scripted film about two friends named "Gerry" (played by Matt Damon & Casey Affleck) that get lost in the desert trying to find "the thing," was the starting point of his best period of work. Between 2002’s Gerry through 2007’s Paranoid Park, with two other great films in between (2003's Elephant and 2005's Last Days), Gus Van Sant wasn’t the Good Will Hunting/Finding Forester director people were starting to get use to. Film snobs like me are always quick to call an “indie” filmmaker a sellout at the first sign of them making a film that can be enjoyed by more than 10 people. When Van Sant took a break from his style seen in earlier films like Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy & My Own Private Idaho and made award winning/money making films like Good Will Hunting I imagine many people slapped him with the "sellout" label. Usually when filmmakers abandon their indie roots they rarely look back (David Gordon Green, Kevin Smith, John Singleton, etc). But to our surprise Van Sant did the reverse, tasted mainstream success (including a few Oscar & MTV movie award nominations) and went back to his low budget, indie roots. Like I already said before, Gerry was totally improvised, had long continuous uninterrupted shots and to this day is probably the most experimental thing he's done. Furthermore, it’s the most low-key and least preachy of the three films in the loose trilogy it belongs too (Elephant and Gerry being the other two in the trilogy). All three films; Gerry, Elephant & Last Days are based on real life deaths centered around young people. While Elephant was a loose retelling of the Columbine shootings and Last Days was a loose retelling on the final days of Kurt Cobain, Gerry is based on the real life story of two friends that went for a hike in the desert, got lost, almost starved and one of the friends ended up killing the other one. Compared to Columbine and Kurt Cobain's suicide, a random story about two guys who get lost in the desert seems like pretty small news (no offense). Ironically, Gerry kinda got the same treatment upon its release - while Elephant & Last Days were nominated for all kinds of awards (Elephant won best picture at Cannes), Gerry was kinda forgotten about pretty quickly. Maybe there shoulda been some kind of a transitional film between the more traditional Finding Forester and the experimental, Bela Tarr influenced Gerry. Perhaps some fans weren’t ready for such a radical change.

similar shots used in Van Sant's 'Gerry' (2002), 'Elephant' (2003) & 'Last Days' (2005)

I imagine some of you are asking what the “thing” is I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up that brings Damon & Affleck to the desert in the first place. In the first twenty minutes of Gerry, Affleck & Damon keep mentioning the “thing” (a clear example of the improvisation in the film). They never get specific but I imagine its some kind of national landmark, hot spring, totem or some kind of outdoorsy attraction for hikers.

If you're gonna do improvisational films (or a film with no script) sometimes the best thing to do is cast real life friends with genuine chemistry like Damon & Affleck (or at least actors who’ve worked with each other on a regular basis). All the dialogue spoken between Affleck & Damon in Gerry, which at times IS a bit too mumbly, familiar and inside jokey, still seems real & genuine. There's even a quick moment when Affleck is clearly holding in laughter yet Van Sant (Affleck's close friend and next door neighboor) keeps the scene in. But still, this isn’t a film about two friends dicking around in the desert. There's genuine moments all throughout Gerry where our two lost main characters express fear, despair, dementia and even hallucinations towards the end. The first third of Gerry is a little confusing because although Damon & Affleck are very lost without any water or food, it doesn’t seem to faze them whatsoever. But after a couple of days go by, reality sets in and they take things seriously until the final moments of the film when one of them dies. Although this is based a true story, a common analysis among fans of Gerry are that Damon & Affleck are the same person (ala Ed Norton & Brad Pitt in Fight Club). *SPOILER ALERT* In Gerry, Damon is pretty much the stronger one while Affleck is essentially the weaker one (there’s even a scene when Affleck starts to cry out of frustration and Damon gets upset and tells him to stop). In the end Damon survives while Affleck dies. It’s many people’s belief that when Damon strangles Affleck in the end, he’s killing his weaker side in order to survive. This scene rings familiar to the final moments in Van Sant's Last Days after Blake/Cobain commits suicide and his ghostly self rises up and leaves his dead human body behind.

To people with a better understanding of film, have a long attention span, don’t easily fall asleep or love The Brown Bunny (there’s many similarities between the two films), Gerry is an underrated masterpiece that needs a second chance. I'd raise my eyebrow if someone said this was one of the 50 best films of the decade or something like that, but it is on the short list. Although this film is kind of under the radar it’s pretty easy to come by. Maybe give it a chance after a few cups of coffee.

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