“I reap the rewards of solitude.”
So says Alvin (Paul Rudd) in Prince Avalanche. It’s 1988, and Alvin has taken a summer job repainting the yellow marks along a stretch of rural highway in the wake of a devastating forest fire. He’s speaking to his younger coworker, Lance (Emile Hirsch), who doesn’t quite see the appeal in camping along the side of the road at night and rarely encountering another soul until the weekend.
For my part, I reap the rewards of writer-director David Gordon Green. They’ve been sparse of late, during his foray into high-concept studio comedies, but it would take a lot more than Your Highness to make me disown the filmmaker behind something as bruised and authentic as All the Real Girls. In his smaller, quieter pictures, Green offers lyrical snapshots of life at its most honest.
He gets back to that here, though I wouldn’t exactly call Prince Avalanche a return to form. There is lyricism, to be sure, especially in the use of the natural landscape. Yet the movie also has a bizarre bent, a loose comic streak and a haziness that suggests it may not even be taking place in the real world. Perhaps Green’s days trading pot jokes with James Franco have served him well.
Despite Alvin’s proclamation, the central tension in Prince Avalanche is one between solitude and community. Alvin can pitch a tent, start a fire and cook up a squirrel – he’s entirely self sufficient in the wild – but he also spends a lot of time writing letters to his estranged girlfriend. Left alone for the weekend (Lance flees to town), Alvin ends up wandering through the woods until he comes upon the wreckage of a burned-down home. After encountering the former owner (or does he? more on that later), Alvin goes through a lonely pantomime, opening and closing imaginary doors, pretending to be a husband and father returning home.
The central tension in Prince Avalanche is one between solitude and community.
Lance is playing house of a different sort. He returns from his weekend with a black eye and a long, sordid tale about how his plans to “get the little guy squeezed” went awry. And so we have two childish men hiding in the woods, hoping to keep responsibility – if not society – away.
If this sounds like a trifle – a lighter Gerry – you wouldn’t be too far off. Yet Rudd and Hirsch keep the misadventures just this side of pathetic, and closer to endearing. At one point their bickering leads to a full-blown altercation, followed by a booze-fueled reconciliation in which they go AWOL with their paint machine. It’s at once sorry and liberating.
The booze is provided by one of the movie’s mystery figures: a trucker who pulls up on occasion to share bottles of spiked beer. The only other person Alvin and Lance meet is that homeowner, but when she is seen getting into the trucker’s vehicle, the trucker claims not to see her. If none of this is explained, I can’t say it ever really threw me out of the movie. Like a version of Waiting for Godot set in the charred ruins of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Prince Avalanche is a little slice of apocalyptic absurdity. For all we know, Alvin and Lance are the last two men on earth, re-enacting bits of civilization in order to stave off madness.
That’s probably not what Green is going for, considering the movie ends with a hint that they may be returning to society, community and possibly even responsibility. If so, I can only wish them luck. We can go off painting our own lines every once in awhile, but not even the most introverted among would last long in isolation.