Living on a knife’s edge isn’t as exciting as it sounds. It can actually be downright tedious, and that’s what Wendy and Lucy captures — the daily grind of staying upright in a treacherous situation.
On the way to Alaska with her dog Lucy, Wendy’s car breaks down and it becomes apparent that this trip is being made with little in the way of money to spare.
The car is Wendy and Lucy’s temporary home and means to an end. While waiting for the mechanic to make the diagnosis, Wendy (Michelle Williams) and her dog are temporarily separated and Lucy (playing herself) goes missing.
Wendy and Lucy, released in 2008 and available on DVD at Whitehorse Public Library, is adapted by Jon Raymond from his short story, Train Choir.
Directed by Kelly Reichart, it’s an intimate film that tracks the insidious downward spiral that could prove fatal to someone’s fragile forward momentum.
In an interview with Gus Van Sant, Reichart said the idea evolved from reflecting on the reality of trying to get by when you have limited resources in a culture that trumpets the virtues of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. “What if your bootstrap fl oated away?” she mused.
You can only guess about what unfortunate events propelled Wendy to the road north with Lucy – little background is provided for her, except for a brief scene with a disinterested sister on the other end of a telephone call.
All we know is that somehow 20-something Wendy sees a stint in a cannery in Ketchikan as the best option available.
With Lucy missing, the energy that drove Wendy from Indiana as far as this quiet town in Oregon is now spent on daily rounds from the repair shop to the pound, tacking up posters of Lucy, and calculating her dwindling budget.
A kindly security guard (Walter Dalton) who stands watch in front of the blank wall of a big box store for 12 hours a day, offers her words of encouragement and the use of his cell phone.
So much of the film is conveyed in brief conversations, poignant images of Wendy’s solo treks through quiet streets and Michelle Williams’ stoic expression and defensive posture , that it leaves Wendy and Lucy open to a variety of interpretations.
Released in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 recession, images of freight trains, hobos gathered around campfires and even Wendy’s Ketchikan plan, evoke a Depression-era aura of hard times.
But with the financial trauma of 2008 less raw in memory, Wendy’s halting journey seems more existential than topical: a constrained echo of Christopher McCandless’s odyssey in Into the Wild.
Gus Van Sant called the film’s effect of drawing people into its anxieties “a great achievement” and many film critics agreed, putting Wendy and Lucy on their top ten lists for the year it was released.
Michelle Williams’ performance was also acclaimed and Lucy received the Palm Dog award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.
Wendy and Lucy is available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library.