Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Make Me A Dirt-Mattress.

Gus Van Sant's Death Trilogy is, with von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy, probably my favourite film trilogy ever. Probably. I think it helps that neither of these are trilogies in the sense that they are a single story told in three parts, instead being a thematic trilogy exploring aspects of humanity and life. Until now, however, I'd never seen the first installment in Van Sant's trilogy, Gerry. Someone, a long time ago, told me it was a pile of crap, not worth looking at. Oh how wrong I have found them to be.

Two best friends, both named Gerry (played by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, so from hereon in, if I refer to a Gerry I will in fact be referring to them by actor name - Damon or Affleck. Please try and remember that this is Casey, not Ben, though. As no one really wants to think of Ben unless they absolutely have to) decide to go for a walk. They are in a huge wilderness reserve, and very quickly get lost whilst on their way to the 'thing', the big thing, whatever it is, that makes going to this park worthwhile. They in fact decide this thing is not even worth seeing, but by then they are hopelessly, hopelessly lost. The sleep a few nights rough, they climb hills and mountains to try and find some semblance of civilisation, they trek in search of water (they have none, and find none) and food (they have none, and find none.) They do this across desert dunes, salt flats, dry rolling hills, shale deposits - every barren and hostile environment you can imagine. And do they find anything to aid them? No. They do not. They walk and they walk, for the most part silently, and they never find anything.

I must say, this sounds on the surface like one of the most unequivocally boring films ever in the history of the world. Two grown men go into the desert, get lost, and walk around for a bunch of days without really saying or doing a great deal. Woohoo! Quick, get me two tickets to every remaining session! I must carve the title into my forearm to declare my anticipation to the world!

The film is far, far more than that. It is an incredible and moving insight into the minds of these two men, the depths of their friendship. This is something that is very rarely seen on film. The two Gerrys have obviously known each other for a long, long time. They almost have their own language - it's discernable for us, but primarily in context. If you said 'dirt-mattress' to me out of the blue, I would have no idea what you were talking about. Ditto 'rock-marooned', or 'shirt basket.' Damon and Affleck have been through much together, and they have created their own way of understanding each other.

Their ability to be silent together, but to still let you know how they are feeling, is another astonishing aspect of the depth of their friendship - because not once during the film do you get the feeling that they are playing for the camera, but simply that they are playing for each other. Their silences speak so much. Some of the shots of them just walking, slow tracking shots through nothingness, are so powerful. So much is spoken between them, you can feel them emanating emotion at each other. It's astonishing.

And, like I said, this kind of male-friendship film is very rarely seen. It is entirely non-sexual, it is not a buddy road movie, it is just a couple of really good friends, going for a walk, and having to deal with the unexpected serious consequences. It is a true insight into the minds of men, without any bells and whistles. When the shit hit the fan, they just went about getting stuff done, and put to one side any real feelings of animosity or blame, because that's what friends like this do, right? When you're stuck in the desert with no food or water and no way out, who cares whether it was Gerry's fault? You just care about getting the hell out.

Harris Savides lensed Gerry (as he did Elephant and Last Days, the other two parts of the trilogy, as well as Milk), and he did a stunning job, languidly following the two guys as they... walked. He never hurried them, he never changed them, he let them lead the way, and then did beautiful things with the frames they fell within. In a diverse desert there are of course plenty of opportunities to create some stunning images, and Savides doesn't disappoint. It is an incredible looking film.

There isn't a great deal else to the film. There is very little music, the sound all works (and I assume a significant portion of it was post-added, as it would have been exceptionally difficult to capture much of it), and the editing (by the two stars and the director) is perfect.

In short, this film is amazing, and it really made me want to go away and watch the other two parts of the trilogy again. I think I will. I still think Elephant is my favourite overall, but Gerry... well, it's given it a run for its money. 4.5 stars. Everything was pretty much perfect, but there was a tiny bit of magic missing somewhere to really leave me gasping. Though I'm still thinking about it, so maybe that magic will come later. It's definitely a film, I think, whose images will stick with me for a long time.

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