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Gus Van Sant’s New Film is Beautiful and Boring

By Jed Horne

staff writer


Written by Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, and Gus Van Sant

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Starring: Matt Damon and Casey Affleck

Rated R

I knew what I was getting into before I went to see Gerry: a slow, self-conscious bid by Gus Van Sant to reclaim a shred of artistic credibility after selling out with Good Will Hunting and just plain sucking since then (cough ... Finding Forrester ... cough, cough). That caveat delivered, I was pleasantly surprised by the result.

As the plot (such as it is) unfolds, two friends, both named Gerry (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s brother, Casey), wander around a nameless desert landscape in search of “the thing.” They give up eventually, and wind up hopelessly lost. The two friends (lovers?) brave the wilderness using only their wits and a rapport so well developed that they often communicate in a language known only to the each other.

As is the case with any art film, the only way to judge Gerry is by literary comparison. The allusion-so-obvious-I-probably-shouldn’t-mention is to Beckett: if Waiting for Godot pissed you off when you read it in high school, Gerry will piss you off more. But that’s not the film’s fault. If you liked Godot (as I did) there’s a lot in the roughly five minutes of dialogue in this two-hour movie that you’ll appreciate. If you have a taste for the absurd, Affleck’s “I conquered Thebes” speech is sure to whet it.

The other reference, claimed in rags with more literary credibility than this one (cough ... Boston Phoenix ... cough cough), is to the supposedly lost tradition of the American landscape film. I’m not a film historian, and I pretty much hate westerns, so maybe I shouldn’t comment on this one either, but some of the scenery is truly remarkable, and some of it isn’t. On the whole, Gerry ranks somewhere between Koyaanisqatsi and Ishtar on the scale of artistic integrity. To tell you the God’s honest truth, it doesn’t really matter if you haven’t seen either of those movies. You’d have to be a weirdo to really care either way. You don’t have to be a weirdo, however, to enjoy some of the shots.

In the interest of filling up space (there’s really not much more to talk about), allow me a moment of personal reflection. I’d been getting over a pretty nasty cold all weekend, and my head was sort of swimming when I saw this movie. That might have been part of the reason I had trouble paying much attention to what was going on, and hey, I’m willing to admit it: parts of it were just downright boring.

But the bits that weren’t -- including a truly remarkable climactic scene -- were good enough to jolt me out of my stupor (the tea I was drinking helped too). And I doubt that I discovered some new Walt Whitman-esque appreciation of landscape studies, but I was moved enough, sickness and all, to brave the weather and walk the entire four miles from Brookline to Cambridge. Sure, it’s not quite like dying of thirst in the desert, but I can pretend.