don’t worry, he Won’t get far on foot
Review by Amanda Harvey
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018) made me cry. This film comes out at a time in my life where change is inevitable, and the uncertainty of the future terrifies me. Watching this made me feel better about how expectations are not permanent.
The story is multi-layered, as alcoholism echoes to it’s silence in an open world. The film is based on the book of the same title, and follows a cartoonist, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) as he destroys and emerges broken into a new world, his own world. It spans three-time frames: John before the accident, after the accident, and his recovery from alcoholism. These are clustered into slight peaks and lows as if to say that cause and effect have no justification in this world. This lack of causality seems ignorant as Callahan walks the twelve steps to being sober; though these steps are present there seems to be a motive for this discontinuity, as if to justify the notion that how you feel is more important than just following actions.
So what actions are important in the film? There’s the moment where John meets Dexter (Jack Black) and his life is forever changed when he wakes up to the fact he cannot walk, and that his alcoholism will linger. There are the dark moments centered around him in his apartment as he waits for his attendant, Tim (Tony Greenhand) an under-qualified ‘nurse’ who looks like he was picked out of a bunch of hippies looking for random work. Then, there’s the moment he starts to go to AA, meeting his sponsor Donny (Jonah Hill). In the sponsor meetings there are a few other people who are explored marginally to make John seem less lonely. The nature of their characterization is so obvious. They are made to ‘support’ the main character which makes each moment with them feel disingenuous. For a man who is defined by his haunting past, and the way his family treated him, it seems odd to marginalize people in his life when they affect him so heavily.
The insertion of people into his life through structure is also how we meet his love, Annu (Rooney Mara). A support aid for the hospital’s loneliest patients turned lover is definitely a cliché, and her use in the film is even flimsier than the AA support group members.
There are flaws in the film, it’s lacking characterisations and flimsy relationships. However, it does not take away from the core of the film. The core is how humans can change for the better despite unfathomable mistakes. The message is there and it’s what made me emotional, coming from my own place of uncertainty about a desired and unplanned future. John Callahan’s story sheds light on how respecting oneself in the form of self-forgiveness can cause change. For only through forgiveness can a distant desire become an obtainable present.