You have a choice. You can either fuss and fret in your seat because there isn’t a constant Looney Toon barrage of story, action and exposition — or you can let yourself get lost in Gerry, no longer needing an explanation to hold your hand. Once you’ve released yourself to the lilt of the film, you become part of the experience, left with plenty of room for your own thoughts to join the trip.
A couple of guys are going somewhere in a car. They’re driving through desert country, maybe the West, until they park, get out and start hiking to get to “the thing.” They speak easy and sporadically, as if they’ve known each other forever, so there’s no need to explain anything.
Gerry stars Matt Damon, who calls his buddy “Gerry,” and Casey Affleck, who calls his buddy “Gerry.” Director Gus Van Sant, Affleck and Damon have joined forces for this one, all contributing to story and script, enhanced by the hovering, haunting original music of Arvo Pärt.
This is new territory for Van Sant, a filmmaker with an intimate camera eye who has explored relatively traditional Hollywood tropes such as drug addiction in Drugstore Cowboy, callous murder in To Die For or conflicted boy genius in Good Will Hunting. Influenced by the films of Bela Tarr, Van Sant approached Gerry wanting to convey a sense of real time elapsing. With minimal dialogue to clutter the mind, he allows the viewer space and time to reflect just as the characters would, so that the simple beauty of watching sunlight dance and reflect off dirt on a windshield takes over, and taps into every road trip you’ve ever taken.
Damon and Affleck jab and joke at each other; they race, talk about game shows or just don’t talk at all, as they go to where they’re going with the wind whistling over the edges of rocks. Sitting around a campfire, Gerry (Affleck) starts telling Gerry (Damon) about how he conquered Thebes. He goes into some of the troubles afterwards, the leaking lava, rivers overflowing, not having enough horses. It’s a monologue that comes and goes without either of them blinking an eye. The two know the score, but we’re left not knowing if it was a dream, a game or what.
But this taste of ancient history in such a minimalist milieu raises the tribulations of Gerry’s journey beyond the mundane, making it take on epic proportions. When the two Gerrys find themselves on top of neighboring hilltops shouting back and forth, they are the kings of this desolate tumbleweed terrain.
As the film transpires, you realize that “Gerry” becomes a catchall signifier for “fuck-up.” The camaraderie between the two during each victorious or jumbled step of the way can be seen as an allegory for process — whether of relationships or the different sides of the mind — that pierces through the limitations of time and space with the help of timeless, very dry and deserted circumstances.
In places, the pace and steps of the two fuse with the environment in mesmerizing rhythms of movement, color and light, like an unsettling yet fascinating dream burned into your memory with blue silhouettes taking tiny steps in the red glare of a sunrise. At one point, Van Sant shoots the two men in profile, walking alongside each other like a team of horses, in a bobbing rhythm to the crunch of shoes on dry earth. The sequence goes on and on, like many of the shots, until your attention shifts to the variations within the visual rhythms: Sometimes they move in sync; sometimes they’re off but complementary, and sometimes completely oppositional, until one Gerry falls behind. It’s a scene, among others, that becomes a microcosm or a tiny mirror reflecting the whole film.
Think of Gerry more as an experience rather than a movie, a virtual vacation from the tired crash-and-chase pulse of status-quo cinema. It’s a familiar, everyday, epic fuck-up that you’ll either love or hate as it breathes across the screen.>
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.