The vagabond and dog in Wendy and Lucy (2008) remind us of Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life (1918), but highlight the immobility of the world. Stealing food in a time of crisis no longer erupts into a clash with police officers acting as the preeminent guardians of class division, but only affirms and deepens the spiral of social exclusion and isolation. Fictional transgressions no longer seem possible. Instead, the suspended movement of the irretrievably broken-down car prompting Wendy’s drift seems to spill over into the whole film. The poor little fellow, scrambling for survival against all odds, bearing witness to the world’s violence while simultaneously making it into a game, has become a wandering figure circulating from one furtive chance encounter to another, unable to change anything. She doesn’t fit in with the established order, but the organized anarchy the Tramp’s force was able to create, as rigorous as it was pointless, has been cancelled out. The ludic capacity to take over any identity has been petrified in the identity of an ‘outcast’ relegated to the margins of society. Reichardt has described her films as “just glimpses of people passing through”. The young woman stranded in small-town Oregon in search for her lost dog passes through “pure optical and sound situations” in which the character doesn’t know how to adequately respond and instead becomes a witness to time passing. She sets out on a directionless Deleuzian “stationary voyage” through the “any-space-whatever” of a former industrial town that has yielded to wear and ennui, a bland and fleeting world where a lasting connection can apparently only be found in the company of animals. The heartbreaking moment when Wendy finally finds Lucy but decides to leave her behind where she can still be taken care of, brings back the film to its starting point, to the suburban train yard where the presence of hobos and vagabonds conjures up images of the Great Depression. The whistling of the train Wendy leaves on doesn’t sound anything like the call of the wild but rather like an echo from a past in which the great departure still offered the prospect of change.
This text is a fragment of a contribution to the research project Figures of Dissent (KASK/UGent).
This Prisma appeared as ‘Prisma #7’ in Filmmagie #677, September 2017.