The Desert of the Real

Gus Van Sant Jerry-Rigs the Road Movie

Inspired by a recent news item Affleck and Damon heard second-hand about two young men who became lost in an American wilderness, the two started working on a new screenplay that would become Gerry. "We thought it just seemed both kind of mysterious and ludicrous all at the same time," says Affleck. "And also the idea that you can get lost in America anywhere these days. It seems sort of unbelievable to us that there are still places that you could be lost for four days."

In the summer of 2001, the group began shooting in the deserts of Argentina. They later switched to Death Valley and, finally, the bone-white salt flats of Utah. The characters' dialogue, which sounds like the semi-absurd secret-slang patter of two longtime friends, was sometimes improvised. Many takes were shot first with dialogue, then again without. Some of the wordless takes became the most expressive moments in the film, like a single seven-minute shot of the two, worn from a day of relentless misery, trudging silently nowhere.

Though not to the extent of Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie or Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, Gerry too became an exercise in grueling, self-reflexive filmmaking, beneath a blistering 120-degree sun. "We were shooting a story," says Van Sant, "but we're actually going through the same process, because we've actually thrown ourselves into the desert, and it's really hot, and we also haven't really given ourselves a specific shot list, or a specific script. So, thematically, while we're in the desert, making a film about these characters who are in the desert, we're also sort of thrown into a certain type of artistic desert."

Wandering off Hollywood's beaten path: Van Sant
photo: Robin Holland
Wandering off Hollywood's beaten path: Van Sant

Related Articles:

J. Hoberman's review of Gerry

"From Rent Boys to Weathergirls: Gus Van Sant, the Early Films" by Ed Halter

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