Two friends called Gerry take a trip to a desert searching for a thing. This is the premise of Gus Van Sant’s film Gerry, which premiered at Sundance in 2002, screened at the Sydney Film Festival last year, and starts a limited season at the Valhalla Cinema, Glebe, from today. Gus Van Sant made this film when he was 50 in response to a news item about two men lost in a desert where only one survived. Elephant, the film he made straight after Gerry, won both the Golden Palm and Director’s Prize at Cannes last year.
Van Sant, who is an openly gay director, made the classic indie films My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (1993) early in his career and then went mainstream with To Die For (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997) and Finding Forrester (2000). Gerry sees him return to indie film-making in a more pure sense of the word. Van Sant works with the landscape and says he wanted to make a film in the style of Hungarian filmmaker and theorist B? Tarr’s Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies. To create an existential feel, Van Sant uses Fur Alina, composed by Arvo P?, and locations including Valle de la Luna in Argentina’s San Juan National Park, Death Valley in California and the salt flats of Utah. The desert takes on the central role in the film. It is portrayed as an endless sea, both beautiful and deadly, that swallows up the unwary and the unprepared. The cinematography of Harris Savides is extraordinary and has won the film many awards.
The two Gerrys are played by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, the younger brother of Ben. Both actors collaborated with Van Sant on the script and also edited the film. The term script is used loosely, however, as the minimal dialogue is improvised; there is little action and virtually no narrative to the film at all. Van Sant starts his film without any credits, not even a title, so the audience is straight away thrown into this road-trip-cum-journey into the desert and presumably, the soul.
The film can be interpreted in a number of ways. One clue is Gerry’s dedication to the memory of Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and himself a traveller to the outer limits of acid. Is Gerry a transcendental, understated meditation on the fragility of life, or is it about the unravelling of male friendship? Don’t go expecting another My Own Private Idaho in a film that is really a visual tribute to the power and beauty of the landscape which some may find pretentious as well as tedious. Van Sant returns to earth in his next film Last Days, due in 2005, a rock and roll drama based on the life of Kurt Cobain.