‘Old Joy’ DB review

November 1, 2020

BY PIERS MARCHANT

Old Joy: Criterion BD Edition

Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Score: 7.3

There’s a scene near the end of Kelly Reichardt’s soft-spoken film about a pair of old friends who go on a camping trip together, when Kurt (Will Oldham), the somewhat directionless seeker, approaches his friend, Mark (Daniel London), newly married and awaiting his first child, while the latter is lying out in the tree-trunk trough of an Oregon backwoods hot spring. Mark is lying with his eyes closed, finally soaking in the warmth and beauty that Kurt had promised him at the beginning of the trip, when Kurt slips out of his own trough, puts his shorts on, smokes some weed, and approaches his old friend from behind, putting his hand on his shoulders. 

It’s a gesture that could go almost anywhere, you realize, suddenly. Kurt, spacey and lost, could be in love with his friend, or want to drown him; or almost anything in-between. The possibilities stretch out like the sprawling branches of the enormous pines of the Oregon rain forest outside Portland the pair have hiked through en route to the hot spring outpost. 

What happens, in actuality, isn’t anything as jarring as an act of violence, a jolt Reichardt’s film, carefully composed and enticingly slow-paced, would have a difficult time justifying, but it’s not exactly clear, either (as Oldham says in an interview included with the disc, it embraces “abiguousness”). In keeping with the dreamy patterns Reichardt has established, the film plays this moment close to the vest, alluding to many possibilities at once. 

The story is deceptively simple, the plot not equal to the sum of its subtle moving parts. Ostensibly, two friends and a dog leave the city, have some difficulty finding the trailhead until the next morning, make their way to these glorious hot springs, then pack it up and go back home, but there are a lot of turning wheels and delicately moving dial adjustments going on underneath the frontal action creating a finely tuned, impressively understated narrative. Like the deep backwoods the friends trudge through, there are microcosms of possibility lurking in the shadows of the leaves all around them. 

Disc Extras: In addition to an engaging discussion of the film by the two principles, there is also a recent interview with Reichardt about the film’s creation, and additional interviews with DP Peter Sillen, and writer Jonathan Raymond. 


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