First released in 2002, Gerry tells the story of two men named Gerry, played by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck.
When we first see the two Gerrys, they’re in a car and they are driving through the desert. Neither one is speaking but they both have oddly determined looks on their faces. When they pull off to the side of the road, they talk about how they are finally going to hike the wilderness trail and see “the thing” at the end of it. They start to hike. In order to avoid a vacationing family, they step off of the trail. Soon, they are lost in the desert.
The audience doesn’t learn much about either one of the men named Gerry. It’s obvious that they’ve known each other for a while and that they have a close relationship but it’s never stated how they met or what they do with their time when they’re not lost in the desert. Nothing is learned about their family or their jobs or their significant others. Matt Damon’s Gerry seems to be the more confident of the two. Casey Affleck’s Gerry seems to be prone to pessimism. Damon’s Gerry tries to figure out the best way to find the highway. Affleck’s Gerry climbs to the top of a rock and can’t figure out how to get down. It’s tempting to try to use how the men react to being lost as a way to imagine what type of lives the two men lead outside of the desert but in the end, their lives in the real world are no longer important. What’s important is that they are both now lost in the desert, walking under the burning sun and suffering from dehydration.
The film follows Affleck and Damon as they go from being amused at being lost to being desperate to be found. The men go from joking to barely speaking at all. When they first get lost, they climb to the top of a mountain to see if they can spot the path back to the civilization. Soon, though, all they can do is keep walking forward and hope that they stumble across the highway. Interestingly, the more lost the men become, the most beautiful the desert seems. The mountains are often so majestic and strikingly formed that it becomes easier and easier to overlook the two men walking near them.
As we follow the two men, it’s tempting to wonder just why exactly they ended up getting lost. Are they being punished for trying to conquer nature or was it just a case of random bad luck that led to them going in the wrong direction? Is there a greater hand of fate guiding the Gerrys or are they responsible for their own misfortunes? Does the tragedy at the heart of Gerry truly mean anything or is it just one of those things that people try to invest with deeper meaning because otherwise, they would be forced to admit just insignificant their lives are in the grand scheme of things? Is there even a grand scheme of things? These are questions that Gerry asks but doesn’t necessarily question. The film ends with a cut to a blue screen, which is perhaps an homage to Blue, Derek Jarman’s 1993 meditation on life and death. Like Jarman’s film, Gerry is meditation that searches for answers but admits that they may not be out there.
Gerry was directed by Gus Van Sant, an experimental director who also has a side gig directing mainstream studio films. Gerry is a bit of an interesting hybrid. On the one hand, the format is definitely experimental and Van Sant often goes out of his way to alienate the audience. On the other hand, the film itself is an example of the power of old-fashioned movie star charisma. Most people who watch this film will watch because it features Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. Damon and Affleck are the reason why most viewers will be willing to tolerate a 7-minute shot of the two Gerrys stumbling through the desert. Would the viewer still care about the Gerrys if they were played by the two unknowns who Van Sant cast as the school shooters in Elephant?
Gerry may be an enigmatic and visually striking film that is full of intriguing questions that can probably never be answered but, in the end, the film does make one thing very clear. Never underestimate the importance of casting a star.