If you’ve ever wanted to see Zac Efron covered in flies, Gold is the film for you!
Actually, I’m being perhaps a bit more snarky than I should be. Gold is actually a pretty good movie and Zac Efron deserves a lot of credit for trying something different. That said, when all is said and done, I think the thing that most people will remember about this movie will be the flies. Efron plays a character who spends several days stranded in the desert. As we all know from watching any of the films that Clint Eastwood made with Sergio Leone, the desert is full of flies and there’s nothing they like more than to land on the blisters on someone’s sun-baked face. So, it makes sense that Efron spends the majority of the film dealing with flies. Of course, he also has to deal with feral desert dogs, a mysterious stranger who may or may not exist, and a freak dust storm.
Gold takes place in the near future. Gold was filmed in Australia and, in many ways, it seems to take place in the same cinematic universe as the first Mad Max. It’s the early days of a dystopia, when there’s still enough comforts around for people to pretend that things can still be normal. People still watch television. They still drive cars. They still use telephones. There’s still some sort of government that is supposedly in charge of things. Society still exists but all around are clues that it is in the process of collapsing. Things are on the verge of changing and they won’t be for the better.
Zac Efron plays Virgil, a man who wants to go to some place known as the Compound. Keith (played by Anthony Hayes) has been hired to drive Virgil through the desert. From the start, Keith and Virgil don’t get along. Keith gets angry at Virgil for wasting water. He gets even angrier when Virgil turns up the air conditioning in Keith’s truck and causes the motor to overheat. However, when Keith and Virgil come across a giant gold nugget in the desert, they become reluctant partners. When Keith heads to another town to get an excavator so they can dig up the gold, Virgil remains in the desert. His job is to guard the gold, though one has to wonder who he thinks he’s guarding it from. Virgil is literally in the middle of nowhere.
Keith leaves Virgil with a set of instructions of how to survive in the desert. However, within hours of Keith leaving, Virgil starts to lose it. He doesn’t have enough water. He doesn’t have enough food. Keith has taken the truck so it’s not like Virgil could go anywhere, even if he was willing to abandon the gold. There are feral dogs all around. There are flies on Virgil’s face. And there are other scavengers in the desert as well….
There’s really not much of a story to Gold. Virgil waits in the desert and loses his mind, all because he’s not willing to surrender that gold. He’s a victim of his own greed, which admittedly is not the most original idea in the world. (Consider the case of Fred C. Dobbs, for instance.) That said, you do have to admire Efron’s willingness to allow himself to look absolutely terrible on screen. From the flies to the dust storm to the scorching sun, the film goes out of its way to destroy Efron’s good looks but there’s a bigger meaning to it beyond Efron’s well-known desire to be taken seriously as an actor. With each fly and speck of dust that lands on Efron’s face, Gold reminds the viewer that the desert will always win. The desert and the animals that call it home don’t care about gold and they certainly don’t care about their prey. In the desert, it’s all about survival. Civilization may collapse but the desert will remain forever.
Visually, there’s a harsh beauty to Gold. The desert is both frightening and fascinating at the same time and the scenes of Efron frame against the landscape really do drive home the film’s point. One way or the other, the desert will always win.