“I miss you Mark. I miss you really really bad. I want us to be real friends again. There’s something between us, and I don’t like it, I want it to go away.”
“Man what are you talking about, we’re fine.”
“Are you serious? You really think that?”
“Of course. Of course I do, we’re fine we’re totally fine”
“I don’t know. God…oh…God, I’m sorry. I’m just being crazy. Sorry. I miss being crazy.”
The plot of 2006’s independent drama Old Joy is simple on the surface, but there is more to behold by examining the meanings behind the dialogue and actions of the two central characters.
Old friends Mark and Kurt reunite and set out to camp and discover a hot spring in the middle of the Oregon wilderness. Mark is a straight laced, responsible soon to be father while Kurt appears mostly homeless, buying and smoking a lot of drugs and longs for the days where Mark and Kurt were closer friends. The two head out for their camping trip and Mark soon realizes that as he expected, Kurt doesn’t really know the way to their destination. They eventually find their way to a hot spring where they enjoy a relaxing spa-like bath before heading home.
There are a couple different things that I wanted to bring up in regards to this film. First off, the film is very short, only 74 minutes, yet in that time Director Kelly Reichardt doesn’t fill every frame with dialogue or action/drama scenes, instead she lets the film breathe in the surroundings and experience the wilderness with the two main characters. Reichardt is a director that I’ve recently been introduced to and I’m planning on finishing out her filmography through this movie watching bonanza.
One of the items that seems to be a bone of contention about Old Joy is the relationship between Kurt and Mark. As I mentioned they are the typical wild character and straight man. On the surface they are good friends and appear to have lived together. However, I think it’s pretty clear that Kurt is in love with Mark and while Mark may have feelings for Kurt, he’s not in the position to reciprocate them. Besides the conversation listed above where Kurt is clearly alluding to Mark’s wife being the thing in between them now, there is the pivotal scene of the film where Mark and Kurt are in tubs next to each other having a bath. Kurt exits the bath early, smokes some more pot, and begins to rub the shoulders of Mark. Mark at first is very uncomfortable by this but then Reichardt’s camera focuses solely on the hand of Mark. This hand, with his wedding ring on it, slowly falls down into the water, submerging the ring and from here, Mark enjoys the massage and appears happy. I interpret this as he’s letting go for this moment, the outside world and his marriage and indulging Kurt for this time. Now, if anything beyond this happens, we don’t see as Reichardt’s too smart to simply spill everything out for the audience. All this being said, I didn’t particularly enjoy the film as I didn’t find much of a purpose to the story. I don’t need the world to end unless someone stops an evil doer but some kind of stakes for these characters would have been welcomed. I think Reichardt is a damn fine film-maker though and I look forward to seeing more of her work.