Wendy and Lucy

By Jason McBride

I’ve seen each of Kelly Reichardt’s feature films at least twice, but for some reason I can never really remember how they end. This despite the fact that they all end in roughly the same way: which is sort of not ending at all, with characters still in motion, heading somewhere, anywhere, their futures both assured and uncertain. Whether they take place in 19th-century Oregon or a noirish Floridian non-time, Reichardt’s films exist in a kind of perpetual present where possibility always persists even as it’s threatened, perverted, or temporarily snuffed out.

The subjects of Reichardt’s films, however, don’t immediately suggest such possibility; in fact, more often than not they suggest exactly the opposite. Her droll feature debut River of Grass (1994) depicts a couple so desperate to star in their own road movie that they go on the lam before they’re even able to commit a crime. Old Joy (2006), made more than a decade later, portrays two braided, and competitive, strains of masculine stasis: the rebel-without-a-cause and the midlife crisis. (The score by Yo La Tengo, both ominous and dreamy, constantly hints at the potential peril of each position.) In Wendy and Lucy (2008), the co-dependent relationship between a girl and her dog presages the desperate, desolate misery breaking out all over a recessionary America. The pioneering protagonists of Meek’s Cutoff (2010) are set adrift in the forbidding, desert landscape of the Oregon Trail circa 1845 (“We’re not lost, we’re finding our way,” says Bruce Greenwood’s eponymous frontiersman), but their real journeys—ethical, spiritual—take place largely within their private, silent souls.

All of these characters are escape artists in slow motion, with lockpicks that open their own hearts. Reichardt’s films are essays in the way that Anne Carson’s poems are essays, teaching us to look at real life more deeply, more imaginatively, more lyrically. Reichardt’s next film, Night Moves, to shoot this summer, is reportedly about a pair of environmental radicals—“eco-terrorists” in the military-industrial complex parlance—who attempt to blow up a dam. It’s easy to imagine the relentlessly empathetic Reichardt sharing some of the disaffected idealism that animates such activists. As misguided as their actions can sometimes seem, their rage against an industrial, earth-killing machine and the criminalization of dissent also insists that a different, better, world is possible.


Tagged with →  


Friend me on FacebookFollow me on TwitterRSS Feed

From the Magazine

  • Cinema Scope 79 Table of Contents
    Cinema Scope 79 Table of Contents

    Cinema Scope Issue 79 with Features including .. Truth and Method: The Films of Thomas Heise by Michael Sicinski, Thinking in Images: Scott Walker and Cinema by Christoph Huber, 58th Venice Biennale, Cannes and DVD Reviews. More →

  • Issue 79 Editor’s Note
    Issue 79 Editor’s Note

    Excuse me if I come across as discombobulated, it’s not because of any movie I’ve watched recently. No, I’m talking about far more important things than cinema: this issue is in the process of being closed while deep in the throes of Raptors mania, to be precise, the incredible goings-on of Game 4. More →

  • The Good Fight: The Films of Julia Reichert
    The Good Fight: The Films of Julia Reichert

    By Robert Kotyk In the first scene of Julia Reichert’s first film, Growing Up Female (co-directed with Jim Klein, 1971), a woman takes the hand of More →

  • Jeanne (Bruno Dumont, France)
    Jeanne (Bruno Dumont, France)

    I’ve exited the last several Bruno Dumont films wondering—only somewhat in jest—whether or not their maker had gone completely insane. Until 2014, Dumont was notorious for his straight-faced, neo-Bressonian, severely severe dramas that interrogated the intersection of spiritualism and material form. More →

  • Exploded View | Flaubert Dreams of Travel But the Illness of His Mother Prevents It
    Exploded View | Flaubert Dreams of Travel But the Illness of His Mother Prevents It

    Undersung filmmaker Ken Kobland’s strange, sumptuous slice of classically minded surrealism, Flaubert Dreams of Travel But the Illness of His Mother Prevents It, created in 1986 in collaboration with The Wooster Group (America’s experimental-theatre ensemble extraordinaire) is, too, a creature born from Flaubert’s polymorphous bestiary. More →