Prince Avalanche (2013) ****
Dir. David Gordon Green
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne
Review By Greg Klymkiw
We all live with ghosts. Even the ghosts live with ghosts. In a world that infuses us with light, one thing's for sure - nature changes physically over time, but the spirit of love that created it goes on and if we're lucky enough to catch the wave, so to speak, we cascade into a kind of spiritual immortality that keeps all we hold dear close to our hearts. Such is love that it comes from as mysterious a place as the very creation of being and how it manifests itself in ways we'd least expect.
In David Gordon Green's haunting and deeply moving Prince Avalanche, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are flung together by love - certainly not for each other, but because Alvin is in love with Lance's sister and has benevolently offered to give her aimless little brother a job.
It's a great job - well, at least it would be to some and most definitely for Alvin - because it affords the opportunity to work within the very heart of serenity itself, the natural wilderness beauty of a forested state park in Texas. Though the actual work is occasionally backbreaking, it requires precision and concentration (albeit of the repetitive kind) and best of all, there are no people.
People are noise, clutter and rabble. Anywhere other than the deep wilderness is concrete and pollution. Lance and Alvin couldn't be any different than we find them at the beginning of the film - Lance is horny, restless and longing to get back to civilization, while Alvin seems to be intent upon diving even deeper into the solace of nature.
Whether it be romantic or otherwise, love often wends its way into people's hearts when the parties are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and so it develops between Alvin and Lance - a deep, brotherly friendship wherein each evolve in positive ways that might otherwise have never been possible without the clash of their differences.
Opposites, in both life and the movies, do attract.
There are only two other characters we meet in the film. One is a friendly old truck driver (Lance LeGault) who appears when our protagonists need the bonding and healing qualities of the old man's exquisitely pure home brew the most. The other is an old lady (Joyce Payne) who wanders about the forest, infused with a cheerfully obsessive quality as she pokes about the charred ruins of her former home - reconstructing and remembering what it was once like; her mind, her imagination both as sharp as a tack. She even inspires Alvin to join her in the game of piecing the home together - in his mind, of course. Even still, as she painstakingly attempts to recreate the pieces of her life, she admits that since her house burned down, it gets harder for her everyday. "I always thought I was adaptable," she sadly admits.
Green is a versatile filmmaker who has careened from pseudo-Malick arthouse items like George Washington to the very offbeat bro-mantic druggie comedy Pineapple Express to clear paycheque-seeking grotesques as (the unwatchable) Your Highness and (the surprsingly funny) The Sitter. I've always had a soft spot for his work (or certainly, the very idea of his canon and evolution as a filmmaker to date), but for me, Prince Avalanche finally nailed that "Okay, I want to see everything he does" pinnacle.
On the surface, we have a very simple and quiet picture, but at its core the movie roils with several layers of emotional resonance and the kind of inspirational philosophies that, in the recent work of Terence Malick seem ludicrously pretentious, but in Green's strong hands as a storyteller, take on the kind of truly blessed marriage one would want from both style and substance. The movie, it turns out, is an American remake of an Icelandic feature from 2011 called Either Way. I haven't seen it, though now I suspect I will. For the time being, though, I have a hard time imagining this material in any other hands.
Part of this is that the story Green tells, while clearly universal, is filtered so strongly though that glorious American tradition of placing macro-lenses upon those dots called human beings against the wide-open space of America. There's also, frankly, an originality of spirit to Green's picture that digs to the very core of such weighty issues as nature and existence that at several points in the proceedings, tiny little moments sneak up on you and the result is often an emotional wallop that leaves you winded.
Certainly, by the film's conclusion, Green inspires the kind of tears that can only be wrought by someone with a Master's touch. Love and the eternal search for love is what permeates every frame of the film and the cumulative effect is overwhelming. At one point, the aforementioned notion of ghosts even ties directly into the spiritual qualities of both love and nature when Alvin says: "True love is just like a ghost - people talk about it but very few have actually seen it." And much like many great American films and literature, we're always presented with the notion of the open road, a road infused with so much promise and yet littered by the ghosts of those seeking genuine freedom that few will ever truly know. On the vast plain of American literature and popular culture, the journey is the high, but the destination is sadly and most often the low (Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, On the Road, anyone?).
If it's anything at all, Green's picture is as profoundly elegiac as it is mysteriously hopeful - so much so that in one scene, the old woman climbs into the old man's truck and he's oddly unaware of her presence. Rather than insisting that she does indeed exist, Alvin asks: "If there was a woman in that truck - I'm not saying that there is - but if there was, would you be good to her? Would you make sure that everything is okay?"
With the steely resolve of all old men of the open road, he replies: "You better believe it!"
We believe him, just as we believe everything so sad, beautiful and moving about Green's great film. What he provides is a kind of strange eternity, a kind of heavenly world not unlike the one Frank Capra delivered in It's a Wonderful Life where in several shots, we see the Bedford Falls movie theatre marquee announcing that its current feature film is Leo McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's. Everytime I see Capra's picture, I'm jettisoned into the kind of bliss that only movies (well, and on occasion, life) can provide. The film is a glorious reminder that in some men's heavens, The Bells of St. Mary's will be playing for an eternity.
Prince Avalanche offers another kind of cinematic afterlife - one where several human beings will grow while discovering tranquility, friendship and the meaning of love under the watchful eyes of a big American sky and those vessels that will transport them - forever - onto an open road, that has no end.
"Prince Avalanche" is currently in theatrical release via VSC.