Kelly Reichardt’s indie drama “Old Joy” (2006) is a gentle, contemplative film for the stoner who doesn’t need car chases, intricate plotpoints or more than two characters to find a story engaging. All that happens is two old friends become reacquainted over a weekend road trip in Oregon. Reichardt is known for filming in the Pacific Northwest; a wet, green, moody landscape. She offers up dozens of delicate details to feast your glazed eyes upon, like a slug slinking across a patch of moss or ants swarming over a garden hose.
Kurt and Mark (played by two actors you won’t recognize, making the whole thing more believable) were once close friends, but they’ve since grown apart. Mark is married with a baby on the way, and Kurt lives an untethered, nomadic existence. One calls the other and invites him on an excursion into the woods, a hunt for an elusive hot springs described as “some sort of heaven on earth.”
“Old Joy” hints at a melancholy sense of changing times; not only a change between these two buddies, but the changes in our rapidly modernizing world. It seems Kurt and Mark secretly hope to find the woods unchanged, to find nature a last vestige of purity and respite. They drive by bridges and power plants, dilapidated barns and open sky – mundane spaces that in the hands of another director could feel hollow, but here appear rich and mysterious.
The connection between the men is steeped in insecurities and unspoken bitterness. Kurt tells Mark, “I miss you really bad. I want us to be real friends again. There’s something between us and I want it go away.” Man is distanced from nature by the spread of technology, and Mark and Kurt are distanced from each by the normal, unfailing rhythms of life. People grow apart, this film quietly reminds us.
Most respectable Coloradoans know the pleasures of soaking in a hot spring (especially stoned). The one Kurt and Mark visit is buried beneath a lush canopy of trees, and they’re the only patrons. The silence of the place is reminiscent of a chapel. Get stoned, watch this and you’ll feel a reverence all your own.