Prince Avalanche is one of the most simultaneously eerie, confusing, and thoughtful films of 2013.
Capitalizing mostly on long, drawn out periods of silence, the film revolves around an unlikely duo of road workers who spend the summer of 1988 rebuilding a highway that has been ravaged by recent fires. Paul Rudd is fantastic in his portrayal of Alvin, a mature senior road worker, who seemingly has his life in order. He appears to be in a serious relationship, and stays within the limits of what he is comfortable with. He enjoys the solitude of the forest, though he does not identify with being lonely. His defining motto? “There’s a different between being lonely and being alone. I reap the benefits of solitude.”
Alvin’s partner on the highway is Lance (played by Emile Hirsch), who is presumably in the same age range as Alvin, though a whole lot less mature. Where Alvin enjoys swinging on a hammock on a typical weekend, Lance prefers hitting up the dance clubs and hooking up with girls, lacking discipline. Being that he is Alvin’s girlfriend’s brother, he is apprenticed by Alvin to help reconstruct the highway.
The story line is very simple, straightforward, and slow-paced. There are two background settings (the forest and highway). Between Alvin and Lance, there is a ton of dialogue, ranging from humorous and witty to serious. While there are no major surprises for the most part, there are actually some ghostly elements in the film. This may be due to the fact that nothing happens suddenly in the film, and so the little things are pretty exaggerated (especially in the periods without any music). Nonetheless, there were points where I thought there could be a twist in the film’s tone to be more thrilling, especially with regards to a certain secondary character. To be honest, it was, and is, really hard for me to understand that character’s significance, but I’m almost positive there is some deeper meaning behind her relationship to Alvin and Lance.
The film is very much an existentialist life crisis for our two characters. Over the course of the film, Alvin and Lance come to terms with aspects of their lives that they were avoiding while up in the woods. Though there are periods of times where each prefers to be by themselves as opposed to talking it out, they ultimately rely on each other more than they could imagine. It’s pretty refreshing to see a very bare film come out with a simple, but deeper message. What better way to ponder the insignificance and meaning behind our lives than by throwing two somewhat relatable characters out in the forest, battling the forces of all their problems?
Now for the technical aspects of Prince Avalanche. The natural landscape was gorgeous, especially when the camera articulated on very small details, enhancing the beauty of the forest. It definitely fits the themes of highlighting insignificance, but it also helps to focus on little things that may often be overlooked but are very important. All of these tiny aspects of the forest are what makes Alvin, and later Lance, extremely in sync with their environment. Equally as moving was the music, which really ties the film together. The folksy-upbeat tunes help to nestle the viewers right into the forest.
Ultimately, the movie is really just a very drawn out way of asking what our place on earth is, especially for these two random guys who, just as they try to rebuild the forest in solitude, try to rebuild their lives in solitude. It asks a lot out of the viewer, requiring that we look a lot deeper behind the exteriors of these seemingly normal characters. It doesn’t reveal what the true message of the film is explicitly (something that, even now, I’m not quite sure what it actually is). It’s worth taking note of how refreshing this solitude of the mind can be on a person, seeing as the movie takes place in a time before technology (being alone with a laptop isn’t actually being alone).
Honestly, because of how the film is crafted in all of its quirkiness and absurdities, the movie is really not for everyone. It’s actually kind of a bewildering experience. Coming into the film, I didn’t have a clue what the movie was about, just that it was a popular independent film from David Gordon Green who has made a wide range of films in the past (George Washington, Undertow, Pineapple Express). I definitely was confused with where the storyline was headed and how everything fit together, but the chemistry and dialogue are too good to be overlooked. And anyway, I always love a good story with a good ending.
Watch it here.
- Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch
- Directed by: David Gordon Green
- Running Time: 94 minutes
- Genre: Drama, Comedy