Friday, March 20, 2020

Kelly Reichardt Mellows Out But Never Forgets Her Filmmaking Skills For Old Joy

There's plenty I find fascinating about the works of Kelly Reichardt but I'm especially intrigued by how she depicts the relationship between human beings and nature. It's a dynamic that consistently carries affection for the environment, though the way she views humans interacting with the natural world tends to fluctuate based on each of her individual stories. Night Moves, for example, is about people who would do anything for the environment but her story doesn't paint them as valiant heroes. Rather, she delves into how their way of protesting environmental hazards tends to do more harm rather than good. That's a vastly different take on the relationship between man and nature than the ones seen in other Reichardt movies like Meek's Cutoff or Old Joy.

The latter film begins with the life of Mark (Daniel London) coming to terms with how, in a short period of time, his life will never be the same. His wife is expecting a child and the prospect of being a Dad has sent him into anxiety. The chance to hang out with his friend Kurt (Will Oldham) by going off to some secluded springs for a night couldn't have come at a better time. These two guys used to be thick as thieves, but Mark has moved onto a more conventional life whereas Kurt is still out here chilling without much of a plan or set home. Their differences quietly loom over their every exchange as they head off into the woods for some time away from their worries.

Old Joy is a chilled out movie, it has no time for the overly theatrical melodrama that tends to populate traditional cinematic narratives concerning former male friends reuniting. Even a scene dedicated to Kurt expressing his dissatisfaction with how much distance has formed between him and Mark isn't full of the usual polished speeches you'd find in normal versions of this sequence. Instead, Kurt stumbles through his words as he struggles to put his emotions into coherent words. It's the most pronounced example of Old Joy's characters confronting the problems that plague them, with the production otherwise relying on the sense of realistic uncertainty that heavily informs Reichardt's other movies.

This is a filmmaker whose works tend to eschew tidy endings in favor of more open-ended conclusions that let you know her protagonists (which included an inadvertent murderer, a settler or a homeless Michelle Williams) will have to grapple with their specific issues for years to come. So too is it with the two leads of Old Joy. Neither of them can just magically revolve their personal issues in the span of two nights spent out in the wilderness. Old Joy committing itself to a realistically long-term depiction of personal angst is one critical way Reichardt makes Mark and Kurt such dramatically compelling characters. Ditto for the ways Reichard uses the sound work to show these characters quietly suffocating under all the noise of society.

Whenever Mark and Kurt are in Mark's car, they're typically accompanied by brash political commentary from the radio. It's all noise that ensures that, even if Mark is the only one in his car, he's never alone. Just this steady stream of loud dialogue makes it clear that in the context of Old Joy, the chaos of the city is something to escape. This persistent presence of clamor makes the scenes where the two lead characters are just out in the wilderness all the more impactful since these particular sequences have minimal accompanying sounds. There's the occasional chirp of a bird or the cracking of a twig that Kurt's walked over, but otherwise, the forest is as devoid of sounds as the city is full of them.

Out here, you can hear yourself think, especially in those springs that Mark and Kurt chill out in. In this location, there are almost no noises to be heard save for the running of water. It's peaceful. It's tranquil. It's just the kind of place where these two can finally be open with each other and not be crushed by omnipresent chaos. For Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt presents the relationship between man and nature as one where man must cede control over to nature to find peace. It's a thoughtfully-realized approach to this concept that, when combined with the thoughtful sound work and two authentically-rendered lead performances, makes Old Joy a mellow but introspective watch. Doesn't hurt that a cute doggie plays heavily into the proceedings, what a good dog this movie has!

No comments:

Post a Comment