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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