Old Joy (2006)

It’s so simple—two men go on an impromptu camping trip—yet Reichardt’s cinema of healing is deeply insightful about the ephemeral nature of life and friendship.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,215

Dir. Kelly Reichardt
2006 | USA | Drama | 73 mins | 1.78:1 | English
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some nudity

Cast: Daniel London, Will Oldham
Plot: Two old friends, Kurt and Mark, reunite for a weekend camping trip in the Cascade mountain range east of Portland, Oregon. When they arrive at their final destination, a hot spring deep in the forest, they must confront the divergent paths they have taken in life.
Awards: Won Tiger Award (Rotterdam); Official Selection (Sundance)
Source: Parts & Labor Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Friendship, Nature of Life
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

At just 70-odd minutes long, one might think that this is a slight effort from American auteur Kelly Reichardt. 

Yet despite its minimalist design, Old Joy is tremendously rewarding with its gentle essence—and by essence, I mean that the film’s inner qualities have the ability to heal you.  Watching it is no different to sipping herbal tea or—as Kurt and Mark would do in the film—taking a dip in a hot springs. 

Old Joy is one of those rare American indie films that is about solitude and calmness, an antithesis to the works of, say, the Safdies, which are tenser and pulsating in nature.  In fact, Reichardt opens her film with the sounds of a Tibetan singing bowl, immediately signalling its meditative intentions. 

The two men, friends for a long time but haven’t seen each other for what seemed like years, go on an impromptu car trip to an isolated camping ground where they hope to find that elusive hot springs. 

“Sorrow is nothing but worn-out joy.”

Shot in Portland, Oregon (a place where I usually send all my Criterion Blu-rays to so that they could be shipped internationally), Old Joy is as much a contemplation of the beauty of nature as it is a deeply insightful piece about the ephemeral nature of life and friendship. 

Do our most cherished friendships naturally dissolute after some time, Reichardt seems to ask? 

It is striking that when Mark is alone in his car, we are forced to listen to the radio broadcasting commentaries over leftist/rightist American politics; but when Kurt joins him during the trip, Reichardt overlays a laidback guitar piece by Yo La Tengo. 

Such is the fine line between tranquillity and ‘noise’—if only it is that easy to tune in and out in our everyday lives.    

Grade: A



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