Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

A wildly original and fascinating trek

Final­ly, a sto­ry told through imagery. ”Ger­ry” hard­ly con­tains any dia­logue. It can almost pass for a silent film. It cen­ters around two char­ac­ters, takes place entire­ly in a vast desert, and doesn’t real­ly have a sto­ry. And while the movie may sound tedious, it is any­thing but. It tar­gets the hearts and minds of bold movie­go­ers, demand­ing patience. The end result is a major tech­ni­cal achieve­ment made by a direc­tor who knows how to invoke emo­tion and thought in the sim­plest of sit­u­a­tions.

Two friends (Matt Damon & Casey Affleck), both named Ger­ry, ven­ture into a desert search­ing for some­thing they call “The Thing.” They walk a short dis­tance and quick­ly get exhaust­ed. They decide to aban­don their search and turn back for the car, but get lost. The Ger­rys are forced to find their start­ing point — even if it means walk­ing until they drop.

Both char­ac­ters walk and walk and walk. They spend days and nights in the desert before ques­tion­ing their des­tiny. They slow­ly begin to appre­ci­ate nature, but also blame each oth­er for get­ting lost. They fuss a lit­tle and then con­tin­ue, in silence, walk­ing some more.

The film is com­posed of long exhaust­ing shots. The open­ing image is a back shot of a car trav­el­ing on a long road. Direc­tor Gus Van Sant focus­es on the vehi­cle tra­vers­ing miles of parched land for about five min­utes before cut­ting to the next scene. While the open­ing sequence is long and shock­ing, it serves its pur­pose. By using this approach and drag­ging his shots, Van Sant wants to make one thing clear with Ger­ry — this is not your usu­al Hol­ly­wood film. These types of extend­ed shots recur through­out.

Some audi­ence mem­bers may reject the direc­tion and call it atro­cious. In that case, Van Sant has prob­a­bly suc­ceed­ed in his objec­tive. What if he wants to bring view­ers clos­er to the desert, the Ger­rys, and their eter­nal-like expe­di­tion? What if his inten­tion is to make view­ers feels the soli­tude and iso­la­tion sur­round­ing the two char­ac­ters?

Appar­ent­ly, the idea behind “Ger­ry” sur­faced dur­ing the film­ing of “Good Will Hunt­ing”, Van Sant’s Oscar-win­ning dra­ma that Matt Damon co-wrote with long-time friend Ben Affleck. Ger­ry was writ­ten by Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant, and Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger broth­er). I can still pic­ture the script as being a pile of descrip­tive pages, because of the lack of dia­logue and the dom­i­na­tion of image.

Damon is actu­al­ly the first to speak. When he spots Affleck tak­ing a wrong turn in the begin­ning, he says, “Ger­ry, the path,” as in “Ger­ry, stick to the path.” Anoth­er scene, which fea­tures dia­logue and is quite humor­ous, is when one of the Ger­rys (Affleck) ends up on a tall rock and doesn’t remem­ber how he got there. The oth­er Ger­ry (Damon) is puz­zled. He quick­ly thinks of var­i­ous ways to safe­ly get his friend down. The scene is hys­ter­i­cal.

Both Ger­rys fre­quent­ly think over their lives and deci­sions. They sit and reflect and, at one point, even cry. Many key fac­tors bring them clos­er to their “break­ing point.” Maybe it’s the rays of the sun gleam­ing against the desert sand or maybe the feel­ing of their lives rapid­ly end­ing. In the end “Ger­ry” is not about search­ing for a spot any­more or a way out of the desert, but accept­ing the way things have turned out.

 

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