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Two young men (Casey Affleck, Matt Damon) who refer to each other as Gerry set off on a journey into the wilderness in quest of an object known only as “the thing”. After a short while, they lose their way and face a life-or-death struggle to return to civilisation.

Review by Jake Wilson:
Two guys walking along. One of them is Matt Damon. Faintly moustached, he’s wearing brown walking shoes, light-coloured chinos, and a blue T-shirt marked with a red circle over a long-sleeved dark top. The other is darker, younger, with a lean face and a hard-to-catch expression, sulky or maybe just shy: brown shoes, black jeans, black top displaying a bright yellow star. 

As they walk, the landscape changes. To begin with it’s just low-lying scrub; then they pass over rocky outcrops like crumbling loaves of bread or cubes of salt seen under a microscope; at last a desert so empty that in the thin dawn light it could be a lake of ice. Civilisation is far away. More importantly, water is nowhere to be found, though the sky, filled with clouds, churns like a turbulent sea.

In theory these two are adults, but what does that mean? Nameless, they use the word “Gerry” to refer to each other and everything else: like surfers (or movie stars) out of their element, their stoned innocence seems untainted by experience and consequently hard to interpret, or believe in beyond a certain point. Unless they’re escaped mental patients. Or one is the imaginary friend of the other. Or they’re gods come to earth. The dialogue gives away nothing, it isn’t even funny but filled with probably misleading clues. Sitting round the campfire, the dark boy, Casey Affleck, mumbles about a dream where he “ruled for 97 years”, or is it a computer game he once played? 

Gus van Sant: a trickster and a dilettante, not easily pinned down. My notes on this teasing minimalist project don’t wholly cohere; viewers will find their own interpretations. It wasn’t till hours after viewing, after trying out multiple comparisons from The Blair Witch Project to Zabriskie Point, that I realised what it really reminded me of: the chapter in A.A. Milne’s The House At Pooh Corner where Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet get lost in the fog at the top of the Hundred-Acre Wood. It’s not just the feeling of disorientation that both artists capture so well, but the depth of male friendship that seems all but pre-verbal, nearly infantile, still sorting out the distinction between self and other, self and world. Gerry’s theme, then, is perhaps the horror of coming to consciousness, finding the world indifferent and the self alone. Milne’s book too is animated by feelings of nostalgia and loss – its fantasy landscape revealed by the end as purely a mental construct, a distant memory of the place where we began. But somewhere a boy and his bear will always be playing.

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(US, 2002)

CAST: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon


DIRECTOR: Gus Van Sant

SCRIPT: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant


EDITOR: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant

MUSIC: Arvo Pärt


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney/Melbourne: November 11, 2004

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