AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | October 18, 2011
Director: David Marek
Writers: David Marek, Judson Webb, Barrett Ogden, Adam Benn
Starring: Barrett Ogden, Judson Webb, Jeniffer Summers, Hallie Schwartz
Ian (Barrett Ogden) has opted to forgo further treatment for a stage four brain tumor in his occipital lobe; instead, he embarks upon a meandering cross-country journey in search of a solitary place to die. He does not get very far in his journey before he picks up another aimless wanderer, Ryan (Judson Webb). Ian is reluctant to take on a travel companion, but Ryan essentially offers him no other options. Then, before he knows it, a couple of other broken characters form a caravan with Ian and Ryan with the singular mission of helping Ian find peace and happiness in his final days.
You might say that Somewhere West is essentially about euthanasia in slow motion. Ian refuses to allow his doctors to force him to receive treatment for such a hopeless case because they would only be extending his pain and discomfort. He would prefer to live his dying days naturally, immersed in some of the most beautiful landscapes the United States has to offer, including: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, The Badlands, Black Hills, Devils Tower, Yellowstone, and Utah’s Salt Flats.
Somewhere West is writer-director David Marek’s Master of Fine Art thesis project for the University of Colorado. I suspect that producing a film such as this one within the realm of academia is what permitted Malek the freedom to playfully experiment with the visuals of the film — doing so allows us to experience the world from Ian’s perspective. This technique lends Somewhere West a certain avant-garde aesthetic along the lines of Gus Van Zant’s Gerry. And, from what I have read, Somewhere West originally clocked in at 134 minutes; but Marek has since whittled it down to a much more festival-friendly length of 103 minutes. At its current length, Somewhere West plays at a pensive and meditative pace (which may be way too slow for some viewers); I really cannot imagine how slowly the narrative would move if it was 31 minutes longer.