Daily Archives: May 31, 2021

The Oregonian (2011)

*. Just don’t think about it. It’s not that kind of movie. Or, as the New York Times review put it, “let your brain off the hook and surrender to a sensual experience that’s the opposite of ingratiating.”
*. There’s no story to follow. Writer-director Calvin Lee Reeder is only tossing a visual salad with an annoying audio accompaniment. Though nominally a kind of road picture it doesn’t even have the narrative backbone of the picaresque journey. Godard’s Weekend, which I think might have been an influence, had more glue.
*. The main influences, though, seem to be the alternative realities of David Lynch and the art-house gonzo visual rhythms of Harmony Korine (I’m thinking of films like Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy). The images are surreal and they’re stitched together in a violently disjunctive editing style that doesn’t even bother with continuity. I think this is what the Times review meant by the “opposite of ingratiating.” It’s an ugly look, and alienating.
*. You’ll have guessed that I wasn’t too impressed by The Oregonian. I want to judge it on its own terms, but it doesn’t seem to me successful even so.  It also seems to me that an independent, experimental film should feel a little fresher than this.
*. Two items stand out. In the first place there is the fear of the natural world. The girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) wanders into the woods in the early going and it terrifies her. But there is actually nothing scary about the woods, as much as the camera tries to frighten us with jump shots of uprooted trees and shelf fungus.
*. This is standard American horror fare in some respects, where someone’s car breaks down in the boonies and they find themselves on the fringes of civilization. It reminded me of the movie Green Room (2015) where the Oregon woods are seen as a dangerous, backward place and not a Romantic environment of spiritual renewal. The problem here is that we are so embedded in a dream world that we can’t draw any connections to our own reality. Even when the girl leaves the forest she doesn’t return to civilization but to a post-industrial, post-apocalyptic wasteland. Meanwhile, the people she does meet are almost wholly inarticulate zombies.
*. The other interesting thing is the feminist message. The girl is escaping an abusive relationship and when she drives off with the old woman, who might as well be the Blair witch, there are echoes of Thelma & Louise. That said, I don’t think the movie is coherent enough to have a political or social message to it.
*. At the end of the day I thought there just needed to be more competence in the production for The Oregonian to work. The “weird” is a difficult aesthetic to manage, but it has to be put forward with both professionalism and sincerity for us to buy into its scrambled world and dream logic. The Oregonian comes across as sloppy and self-indulgent, and even the parts presumably meant to be shocking (like an omelette being dumped into a vaginal wound in the girl’s back while she’s being raped) didn’t register as anything but crude and silly. I couldn’t help thinking that Reeder saw the whole thing as a joke — and not a nice joke, but a crude, practical joke like the version of the Ludovico technique we see in his short film The Procedure. If he had a point to make I missed it.