Old Joy ★★★★★

"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."

Nobody so-perfectly captures the feeling of being in a particular space like Kelly Reichardt. Most directors whose styles are described as immersive achieve such through hand-held shots, tight close-ups, or vivid colors. Reichardt operates primarily in stationary shots, relying instead on sophisticated, artful compositions that give a great deal of dimensionality to each shot, carefully choosing what to have in or out of focus, and where characters are placed in the frame. She truly gets the most out of every location, showing us multiple shots of car-interiors and point of view shots looking out the window, and for landscapes, the frame includes leaves in the foreground and background between the main subjects, the sun shining bright on faces, and the natural sounds are subtle yet ever-present. The sequence at the hot springs is one of the most remarkable I've ever seen in its direction, and the car ride back home was equally well-crafted. At only 76 minutes, this film seems to fly by, yet it really does take its time in the little moments.

To say this film is simply about two friends reconnecting seems reductive and somewhat inaccurate. Mark doesn't believe that they need to reconnect, as there is no divide; Kurt feels otherwise. It's clear in every line of dialogue, both in the words and in the way they're delivered, that Kurt doesn't have much going on in his life. He's doing alright, but he's not fulfilled. He's lonely, and he really misses his best friend. Mark, on the other hand, is doing just fine. A minor argument with his wife in the opening of the film implies that their marriage isn't perfect, and his plans for when the baby comes seem tentative at best, but at least he's occupied. He cares about Kurt, but it's a passive emotion on his part. If he sees Kurt, that's cool. If not, that's cool too. For Kurt, however, this time with Mark is everything. When they get lost along the way, Mark grows anxious, yet Kurt is just happy to be in his company.

Most people struggle to tell the ones they love just how much they love them. It's a vulnerable position to be in when you tell someone that you miss them, because what if they don't miss you back? It has been my experience, however, that men struggle the most with this. For many men (myself included), even referring to your male friend as a friend seems almost too intimate sometimes. For healthy relationships to flourish and continue, people need to talk about their boundaries and their needs, yet many men refuse to do this because it makes them too uncomfortable. When Kurt tells Mark in no uncertain terms that he feels there's a growing distance between them, Mark just laughs it off. It's too scary of a conversation to have, even though it's true -- perhaps that's what makes it so scary. Kurt tries so hard to get back the level of closeness he and Mark once had, but Mark doesn't seem to want it. He cares about Kurt, and he likes being around him, but it's not in equal measure. Two friends can both like each other, but that doesn't mean they like each other in the same capacity.

The final moment between the two men is one that felt all too familiar to me. It's not sad, per say; it's a friendly goodbye, but it's an end to a conversation that shouldn't be over yet. There's so much still unsaid, so much left to address, but neither of them are willing to talk about it. Both men leave each other in good spirits, yet I feel a heaviness in my heart as I watch them, knowing that they could have had so much more. The final scene of the film is so subtle, so understated, yet its a perfect end to the narrative. You can only make the same mistake so many times before you have to force yourself to change.

This film gave me so much to think about, and there's still so much more I could say, but I feel that I've already said so much. It doesn't offer much in the way of plot, but it was one of the best viewing experiences I've had in a while. I love this movie deeply, and it really spoke to a lot of what I've been in feeling in my own life lately. It's quiet, it's contemplative, and it's beautiful.

Rating: 96/100

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