There’s a pleasant, old-fashioned feel to Alpha.
PARK CITY, Utah--I walked out of the screening of "Gerry" and was pounced on by three women who had just seen the film.
"How would you describe it?" they said.
"It is easier to describe than any other film I have ever seen at Sundance," I said. "Two friends go for a hike in the desert and get lost."
"Not that kind of description! Would you say it was ... existential?"
"Like, we have to choose to live or die?"
"They do not have a choice to make. They're lost and they can't find their car. They have no water and no food."
"What I think," said one of the women, "is that it's like 'Waiting for Godot,' except without the dialogue."
"It has dialogue," her friend said.
"But not serious dialogue."
"The dialogue in 'Godot' is not serious," I said. "At least, it is not intended by the speakers to be serious."
"In 'Godot'," the women said, "they wait and wait and he never comes. In 'Gerry,' they walk and walk and they never get anywhere."
"There you have it," I said, edging toward the sandwich counter. My heart was sinking, because I knew that I was doomed to be asked about "Gerry" over and over and over during this Sundance festival.
There is always a movie like this, a movie so simple that no one can believe it is that simple.
The movie stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, bother of Ben. It was written by them with the director, Gus Van Sant. Filmgoers will recall that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, brother of Casey, wrote "Good Will Hunting," which was directed by Van Sant.
The movie does indeed involve Damon and Affleck going for a walk on a desert trail, heedlessly leaving it, and getting themselves good and lost. They do not talk much. Their two longest conversations involve a dumb contestant on "Jeopardy," and Affleck's bad luck with a video game (he had just conquered Thebes, but then he needed 12 trained horses and only had 11). The big action scene happens when one of the characters stands on top of a rock for a long time trying to decide whether to jump down to where the other character is.
I walked back into the Eccles Theater for the next movie, which was "Good Girl," starring Jennifer Aniston, wife of Brad Pitt. I would not mention her marital status except that Brad came to the screening with his wife, and there was a media riot for 15 minutes as photographers climbed on top of each other's inert bodies to get photographs of Brad and Jennifer, which, as you know, are in tragically short supply.
This melee was taking place in the lower right-hand corner of the vast auditorium. In the upper left hand corner, in the back row, as far from the stars as possible, you would have found me sitting next to my friend Ken Turan, the film critic of the Los Angeles Times, who has single-handedly converted a dozen of his fellow critics, myself included, to the Timex Indiglo watch that lights up real bright in the dark when you want to know how long, oh, how long, dear Lord, a movie still has to play.
"Sundance is supposed to be the anti-Hollywood," I observed, "and all it takes is a couple of big stars to turn everybody into fans."
"What did you think of 'Gerry'?" Turan asked.
"Did you see it?"
"Well," I said, "it is the kind of movie it takes an experienced observer to appreciate. Someone who has seen a lot of movies and thought deeply about them. Someone who knows the work of Godard, Resnais, and Leone."
"Someone like us," Turan said.
"Exactly. The average viewer is going to be incapable of accepting it as only what it is. The story of two guys who go for a hike and get lost. Some woman in the lobby was insisting it was existential."
A woman in front of us turned around.
"Ted Field, the producer, walked out saying it was a load of pretentious crap," she said.
Not experienced enough, Turan and I agreed.
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