Graham Travis’ Wasteland: the ultimate silence by Anna B. Volk 9.21.12

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

Then he hid himself in the fire that purifies them.
- Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXVI 148

One can never approach a wasteland with enough caution. The barren and uninteresting panorama is designed to confuse you: it is in the remote maze of a cement jungle that Graham Travis delivers what I assure you to be perhaps the greatest masterpiece of contemporary (adult) cinema. One more exquisite Elegant Angel production, Wasteland revolves around the reunion of Anna and Jacky, old school friends who meet in a Los Angeles which is as deserted as their native Tucson. The movie opens with the following poem:

                         I see a creature, fierce and unrestrained
                         A hazardous raging fire, and yet I reach out towards her flame
                         The darkness from her depths, guiding me into her soul
                         Drawing me into her wasteland… into her world.

Don’t be fooled: it is Anna, and not Jacky, the poem is about. She is the raging fire, the dark one, the wasteland. Her only chance of salvation – to her mind – is through Jacky: aware that, once her grandmother dies, she will no longer have connections with the world, she does not fear what may come of her. What she fears, in reality, is herself: her loneliness, her silence, her depth. Although Anna is completely aware that Jacky does not function as a mirrored representation of herself – she states it in the very beginning, when she says “I met Jacky in high school. We weren’t likely friends. She was popular, outgoing… but unsettled. I was awkward, shy, withdrawn. We were both different. We weren’t like anyone else.” (my emphasis) – she holds on to the fantasy that Jacky is the one person who might prevent her from total isolation and, therefore, a confrontation with her own self.

Lily LaBeau creates an aseptic Jacky who hoovers above sentiments and states that “sometimes I think that there is something wrong with me. Do you ever get that feeling? Like I am not a girl, I’m not a boy, but I am some weird species that is not built like everyone else”. By exempting herself from gender and even from human form, Jacky makes it clear that she is unable to connect with anything – unless when in contact with a parallel sexuality that works as a provocation to sensations and emotions. From the very beginning of the film, the distance she keeps from Anna reflects her knowledge that, deep down, they are so different that they are never going to be able to connect. “She is crazy, this one,” she says at the bar. “You know what they say: it is always the quiet ones.” And although she is the one who seems to be the quiet type, Jacky constantly verbalizes what is actually happening (like when she defines Anna’s promise to always be her friend by defining “always” as “boring, and lonely, and painful, and scary, ‘always’ is just unrealistic”; which is how Anna sees her own future), in contrast to an Anna who reveals things in spurts, but predominantly talks about herself.

Unlike Jacky, however, Anna is not in need of external provocation to feel; on the contrary, she is so constantly tortured by things she does not want to remember that she chooses to focus on specific feelings through life – like her love for Jacky, or the unfamiliar normality of Lee’s house. At the same time, however, she knows Jacky does not belong to her, and she constantly reminds herself of that by choosing to revive in her memory the specific moment in which she realized it; when Jacky has sex with Eric on the night of the campfire, the significance of that moment for Anna lies on her comprehension that Jacky is not able to connect with anyone but on a sexual level, as well as her own inability to do so (“I wouldn’t do the things you would do. I wouldn’t take them on my mouth. Or let them fuck me like a dog”), this way establishing the pivotal difference which separates both women, on her mind. So when she arrives in California she is sure of which path she will take – having spent years romanticizing an adolescence friendship that had left her to deal with her old emptiness when Jacky moved away

“When you left, at first, it was not what I expected. I was so lost. I drank like crazy and listened to songs that reminded me of you. This is embarrassing. I guess I didn’t know what it would be like to lose my best friend. But that empty feeling is normal. You get used to it. The distance grows.” (my emphasis)


Anna departs to Los Angeles despite the imminent death of her grandmother in order to reestablish a non-existing relationship she had been feeding for five years, this way avoiding being disconnected from the world. It is not by chance, therefore, that on her first moments with Jacky, Anna deliberately constructs a revised version of the campfire night, and chooses to watch as Jacky has sex with a man in a bathroom stall. Perhaps in an attempt to breach the distance between them, as a foreshadowing of what is about to come, Jacky invites Anna to partake in her own sexual enterprises by asking Anna to join her and the man in the back alley; however, by transferring sexual completion to Anna’s figure, Jacky is disembodied from her normal role, and the realization that Anna does not configure sex the same way she does hits her before it dawns on Anna or on the viewer, for that matter. Therefore, because she is aware that Anna’s visit is not going to become something permanent, and that Anna is not and will never be like her (despite Anna’s later plea “I want to be like you”), Jacky is able to go through the night without raising expectations and even flashes back in time, becoming a teenager who can play Go Fish and have tequila shots with her bestie: sex for Jacky takes on a calm, tranquil aspect here because it does not represent the provoking kind of sex she seeks in order to feel, but old sensations of friendship and comfort. And that is how she is able to refute Anna’s pledge to be her friend forever, and why she was able to move on after moving from Tucson and missing Anna for “a few weeks” before it “became trivial”.

It is worth noting that all significant moments between the two characters happen around water. From the adolescence lake, to their reunion five years later by the ocean – where both seem tentative and playful facing the water – to the swimming pool scene: those moments are emblematic of female sexuality, and are iconic of the relationship that exists between both women. The counterpart is the fire that burned down Anna’s house and killed her parents; the cigarettes that are lit in the specific moments Jacky is portrayed separated and distant from Anna’s reality; the campfire on the night she sees Jacky and Eric together; the flame-red light at the club when Anna goes through what seems to be an initiation process before she can meet Jacky in the last room. In moments where Anna is confronted with her own fears, the presence of fire undermines that of water, obliterating her sexuality by iron branding her psyche.

Jacky’s wasteland is kept under control although over populated with a myriad of stimuli and several layers of sounds, from dissonant classic music to voices speaking a foreign language; Anna’s, on the other hand, seems placid and silent like the morning after, but poses as a burden heavier to be carried. Unable to make it in Jacky’s world – because it is as foreign to her as the voices that come from the men in the club – Anna returns to the “black hole” of Tucson as empty as she expects her future to be. Her return to Arizona can also be seen as her ultimate redemption: “Then (s)he hid himself in the fire that purifies them.” By returning she is actually walking towards herself, stripped from the (romantic) fantasies towards Jacky she had spent so long harboring. Lily Carter delivers a performance that is impossible to be put into words: she is able to express in her eyes the process in which Anna slowly becomes deprived of life, or gaining conscience that she must ultimately confront herself.

As a writer, Travis is able to implement a variety of foreshadowing elements without destroying the viewer’s hopes – whichever those may be. The impeccable work and careful direction made it possible to extract from LaBeau and Carter deep, genuine performances without forcing them to lose themselves into characters that might differ dramatically from their own personas. Visually the film is potent and impervious, with a cinematography that is heavy and dense even when under white, bright linen. The soundtrack complements the story perfectly, and it should be released as OST.

To conclude, Graham Travis did it again. Wasteland is bound to repeat the same success of Portrait of a Call Girl, but this time with even more maturity and complexity. It will be interesting to see Travis’ next step: topping Wasteland will reveal itself to be a difficult task.



3 Comments on Graham Travis’ Wasteland: the ultimate silence by Anna B. Volk 9.21.12

  1. The cast is handsdown the standout reason why this movie works.

  2. Great Review!
    I definitely agree with your take on the relationship. Anna definitely seemed to be Going through the experiences of the night to try and “Be Like” Jacky…To Live like she does, experience Sex like her, and try to re-capture what she has turned into an Ideal from the Past. The way I best describe the feeling watching this great Film is Haunting. It brings up all the great visuals and great music and energy of your favorite movies. If you don’t see yourself and Your First Adult Love in these moments then you either took too many drugs or your purity rings were on too tight. Wasteland is a great Film that has some incredible sex scenes, Not a series of sex scenes with some story.
    Well Done Graham Travis and again, Great Review Anna B. Volk. :)


  3. This is a great review. I recently watched the movie, and I found it to be emotional and heartbreaking. I love it that your review goes into how deep the movie really is. I can’t even think of it as porn. “Wasteland” is really an indie drama with hardcore sex scenes. Once again Graham Travis has created a masterpiece. This is the best movie to come out this year.

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