Gerry (2002) is Gus Van Sant’s return to arthouse cinema, and his entry into moodscape. Influenced by Hungarian director Bela Tarr, Gerry can only be described as a cinematic submerging of the senses. It’s an intense, breathtakingly beautiful film, meditative and lingering in mood, yet also disquieting. Van Sant’s use of the long take, as well as gorgeous time-lapse landscape photography, alternate to produce both the feeling of a real-time journey, and a sped-up, surreal doom coming for the film’s protagonists, both known only as “Gerry”.
There isn’t much of a story, and what there is seems simple enough: Two guys drive into the desert to go for a hike. They get lost. They walk and walk, and then they walk some more. The real weight of this film lies not its plot or its characterisations, though much can be said about these elements. What makes this film remarkable is Van Sant’s use of the soundscape and landscape, to construct a very visceral sense of these characters and the predicament that they’re in.
Gerry is part of Van Sant’s “Death Trilogy” (comprised also of Elephant, 2003, and Last Days, 2005), all of which utilize similar aesthetics: improvisational long takes; loose, elliptical narratives; and immersive cinematic environments (ie. moodscape). They require patience to get into,as they are about the experience of time, rhythm, colour, and sound, rather than plot or character. Unlike any of other his works, these are his most explorative and challenging films, and, I think, his best since his earlier arthouse successes, Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho.