Criterion Review: OLD JOY (2006)

Kelly Reichardt’s portrait of fraying friendship arrives on Blu-ray with a new 2K restoration

One of the most fascinating aspects of Kelly Reichardt’s films is how dedicated she is at exploring how her characters interact within a space, be it small-town life in Certain Women, tight-knit social groups in Meek’s Cutoff, or within the confines of governmental and environmental pressures in Night Moves. Old Joy, Reichardt’s second feature film, is one that explores the fraying bonds of friendship between two middle-aged men on an impromptu camping trip. Much like Reichardt’s other work, nature manages to fill the awkward silences between the two men, illuminating what isn’t shared between them as much as what is — and, oftentimes, giving brief glimpses as what they might want to share between each other, but can’t bring themselves to do so.

The film runs a scant 73 minutes (including credits), but Reichardt manages to paint a sensitive, eloquent portrait of two men whose best memories of each other have long since passed. Mark (Daniel London) has a house in the Portland suburbs and is expecting a baby with his wife; Kurt (Will Oldham) is far more unattached and free-spirited, with one foot stuck firmly in the past as he bemoans the shuttering of past hangout spots in the city. The two hike through the Pacific Northwest towards an idyllic-sounding hot springs. From the sounds of things, Mark might not have been Kurt’s first choice of travel companions — but Mark may be the last person willing to join Kurt. Is there more to Kurt and Mark’s drive to connect with each other than they let on? Reichardt’s film is layered with several such ambiguities, each one bringing out a new nuance to Mark and Kurt’s friendship. As Mark and Kurt grow closer and further apart as a return to society looms, the ever-bustling natural world around them functions to illustrate just how constant change is in these men’s lives. With everything in a perpetual state of growth and decay, it seems the only thing permanent in Old Joy’s world is impermanence. To recapture “worn out joy” only leads to sorrow — with the only path to peace existing in a natural state of surrender to the present.


Criterion’s release of Old Joy presents the film in a new 2K digital restoration from the film’s original 35mm negative, with an accompanying restored 2.0 LPCM stereo track for the film’s audio. The restorative qualities of Blu-ray thankfully don’t intrude upon the organic, lived in qualities of Reichardt’s work. While a few shots towards the film’s beginning have a more softer grain to them, much of Old Joy’s quality dazzles in its idyllic nature shots and its more critical gaze of the crumbling silos and buildings that wait between forests and encroaching cities. The film’s sparse score by Yo La Tengo is full of rich, plaintive echoes, and once in nature the film’s dialogue becomes much more layered underneath surrounding background noise without losing its distinct aural quality.

Special Features

  • Daniel London and Will Oldham: The film’s co-leads reunite after years apart to reminisce about the intimate experience of shooting Old Joy with a skeleton crew in the forests of Oregon.
  • Kelly Reichardt: The writer-director discusses how she found the film’s original short story; the cinematic inspirations she drew upon during production; her memories of Lucy, her dog who became the film’s crucial third character; and the experience of making Old Joy in the context of the rest of her career.
  • Peter Sillen: Old Joy’s cinematographer discusses the challenges of shooting the film on-location in the Pacific Northwest on a shoestring budget; the advantages/disadvantages of shooting on 16mm vs. the new availability of digital; being vigilant about the roving Lucy while on set; and the shaping of the film during post-production.
  • Jonathan Raymond: The film’s co-writer discusses being inspired by photographer Justine Kurland’s work in writing Old Joy’s source material; the film’s roots in the Western genre in expressing masculinity; and his collaborative relationship with Kelly Reichardt over her following films.
  • Essay by film critic Ed Halter: The Light Industry founder discusses Old Joy’s spiritual aspirations; the film’s tensions between natural beauty and urban ruin; and how some of the film’s more subdued views of masculinity may have been inadvertently overshadowed by Brokeback Mountain, which premiered weeks after the film’s Sundance debut.
  • Jonathan Raymond’s Old Joy: The original short story that inspired the feature film.

With detailed interviews with the film’s cast and crew, as well as including the original short story, Criterion’s new Blu-ray of Old Joy treats Reichardt’s film, Raymond’s source material, and the collaboration of the two in between with equal degrees of reverence.

Old Joy is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Criterion.

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