Our admiration for Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy led us to Netflix her first film, Old Joy. There are many purposeful parallels between the films, which might almost have been taking place in different parts of Portland on the same day, the most obvious being the combination of a pair, a car and a rather bleak urban landscape shot in flat ribbons. Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (cult musician Will Oldham, lately profiled in The New Yorker) manage to make it out of the city and into the real wilderness, and originally seem like companions, but in the end this movie is just as much about the breakdown of a relationship and how alone we really are, as the first. I didn’t feel it in the same way — maybe I was distracted, maybe I could identify less with men than with women — and I missed some information about what they once had been to each other. I understand elliptical and I felt like I knew who Kurt was. Mark was more of a cipher, even to himself.
What I missed in this movie and loved in Wendy and Lucy, was the silence. By the end of the film Reichardt has let the soundtrack (by generationally appropriate Yo La Tengo) die away and you just hear the birds and the water, then the rush of driving and the drone of talk radio. That felt right. In real life there’s no burbling music telling us how to feel about something or covering over the awkward silences and that’s part of what this movie was about. Having nothing to say to each other anymore. That’s a sentiment usually reserved for bad romantic relationships, but Old Joy is one of few films to touch on the death of a friendship. People usually just slip away, too embarrassed to do anything about it, or continue a dead relationship through electronic, non-invasive means. It is hard to admit that you have grown apart, what with the rush of memories of good times, remembered moments of total agreement. But that’s old joy.