A car drives down a road for a long time. When it finally turns off the main road you feel as if something has actually happened like it's a major plot point. Two guys get out of the car: Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. They don't speak as they begin their walk down a wilderness trail yet you get the feeling that everything that's happening is somehow very very important. You soon realize that alas that is not the case. They're just walking. They leave the path; soon they're lost. Now we'll get to the good stuff. Aaaah nope. Just more walking. A storm rolls in (clichéd stop motion photography and all) and it occurs to you "What in the hell are two Gen Xers doing in the middle of the desert without a cell phone?" More walking. I start making notes the copious notes of the hungover college student trying desperately not to fall asleep in an 8 a.m. class. "Oh God I'm so bored " I wrote insightfully. "My only hope is that this is that movie I heard about on NPR that's only an hour long." Time passes. More walking. Another note: "It's not."
Damon and Affleck both play characters named Gerry. This is apparently supposed to mean something and I'm sure on some private level between the two actors and their director it does. I want to call them up and say "I have a friend named Jerry. Can I get in on the joke now?" But it would be rude to use a cell phone in the theater so I can only use it to check the time. It's been one hour. Sweet heaven. If I could jump into the picture like that kid in the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick I would--just so I could give the phone to these two dopes they can call a cab and we can all get the hell out of here. The Gerrys are having another of the conversations that the actors make up as they go along; they've already had one about conquering Thebes (whatever) and another about a Wheel of Fortune contestant who flubbed the puzzle even though all the letters were uncovered except one. They consider this mistake the height of idiocy. I consider the idea that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
I start to think Gus Van Sant might be trying to channel Samuel Beckett with this movie-to make one of those non-drama dramas where nothing happens and nothing means anything and somehow that's supposed to mean something? Like Waiting for Godot right? OK I respect that. Then I start to think that watching these guys walk around in the wilderness is kind of equivalent to well walking around in the wilderness. So I make a chart in my notebook. Gerrys: see the scenery at first and think it's very pretty. The longer the movie goes on the less they care. Audience: ditto. Gerrys: need to drink water. Audience: need to pee. Gerrys: wish they could go home. Audience. Hmmm. Ditto. Gerrys: miserable hot and tired. Audience: miserable cold falling asleep. When I get back to the Hollywood.com office I check my production notes and confirm that Van Sant did in fact want to replicate the characters' experience in his audience--to allow them space to think he says. I sure did my share of thinkin' while watching this movie. I think it really sucked.