Monday, August 20, 2007

Old Joy

Old Joy is one of those maddening movies that only gives you enough to whet your appetite, but still leaves you starving and unsatisfied at the end. I don't have to have closure in my films, nor do I even need a coherent plot, or narrative arc, or character development. Necessarily. But I need something. Maybe a "mood" is enough. Maybe if you go into a film realizing that all you're going to get is some ambience loaded with meaning and significance, but not much else, then you don't expect much more.

Mark is married and about to become a father, but we have no idea how he feels about it, and maybe that's not important. His old buddy Kurt is a free-spirited quasi-hippy (and gay?) drifter who's terrified at the idea of commitment. To anything. We know this much: they have a history. They haven't talked in awhile. They decide to go camping and have extraordinarily unconvincing conversations about their bohemian pasts and people they used to know. Mark's wife constantly calls him on his cell, which makes Kurt's blood boil, and makes one suspect that Mark's wife is the reason they haven't seen each other in so long.

And that's about it. The only scene in the whole movie that really hints at any kind of conflicted past, or that there may be more to their relationship than what we're seeing occurs about 45 minutes in. They get naked together in some hot springs and at one point (POSSIBLE SPOILER) Kurt begins massaging Mark's shoulders. Mark barely flinches, and settles in to enjoy the pampering. This tender action hints at a physical (and emotional) intimacy that most "straight" guys I know don't have with each other. But then it ends and that's all we get.

Did they once have a physical relationship? Is Kurt gay? Did Mark's wife indeed come between them in this respect? There are so many questions raised (at least in my mind) that the filmmakers don't even begin to answer that it was just frustrating. I don't have to be spoon-fed, and a part of me likes the idea of having to pretty much write our own narrative, but.... But what? I'm not sure. I just wanted more.

If nothing else, Old Joy is a film about growing up. Or not growing up. Or growing up in different ways, neither one more or less legitimate than the other. But every decision requires a sacrifice, and maybe that's what the movie's about. It's also a film about a tenuous intimacy between men. An intimacy that is clearly sensual and almost erotic, but not overtly sexual, and I at least applaud the filmmakers for acknowledging that such intimacy not only exists, but is probably a lot more pervasive than most people are comfortable admitting. It is a film saturated in sorrow and memories. Strangely, though, not a lot of "what if's?". Both men seem comfortably settled in to their chosen lifestyles. It may or may not be working for them, we're given clues to indicate that either could be true, but again, nothing.

Old Joy reminded me of being at a party with a bunch of people you don't know, but they all know each other, and clearly have histories. You're never in one place long enough to hear a whole conversation, you just hear snippets. You're fascinated by the snippets, but have no context for them, so they don't mean much to you. And you want to jump in at some point, but you know you'd just be lost, so you don't bother, and just stand back and soak it all in. At the end of the night, you're still going home alone, but you realize you've just met a bunch of people you'd probably have a lot in common with and would love to get to know, but they're all leaving town in the morning and going their separate ways.


Tom Drew said...

This was interesting to read, partially because I had a similar reaction to the (mostly) non-happenings of Junebug yesterday morning. There were all these mood-building shots of nature and the house and stuff, rarely accompanied by any music - or, indeed, by much sound at all - and while I liked this effect, I wanted just a wee bit more of... something. I dunno what.

The Fire Next Time said...

Oh man, I loved Junebug. Strangely, though, I don't remember much about it, but I do remember loving watching it.