Go Further

Go Further (2004)

As demonstrated in “Go Further,” a Ron Mann documentary chronicling a 2001 bike/bus trek from Seattle to L.A. by actor Woody Harrelson and friends to raise environmental awareness, there is no dearth of environmental causes in this country.

Among those discussed in the film: pesticides, clear-cutting, and fossil fuels (negatively); and hemp, yoga, organic food, and sustainable energy (positively). The number of causes, in fact, might be part of the problem.

Early on, for example, Harrelson talks with Steve Clark, a production assistant and self-proclaimed junk-food addict. He’s the film’s everykid, a slacker with a minimalist surfer vocabulary:

Harrelson: You know what’s in dairy?
Clark: Vitamin D.
Harrelson: Blood and pus.
Clark: Shut up.
Harrelson: Monsanto invented this bovine growth hormone. Udders are getting irritated and it’s secreting blood and pus into the milk.

By the end of the journey, it’s Clark the acolyte who’s warning others about dairy. But what about organic dairy? You get the feeling somebody on the bus would still object. Harrelson, at one point, warns against eating red meat and chicken, while the raw-food chef on the journey warns against baked goods.

Each step further afield—eat only organic; eat only organic nonmeat products; eat only raw, organic, nonmeat products—loses potential converts and increases potential eye-rolling. You want to yell “Focus!” not at the projectionist in the booth but at the activists on the screen.

Harrelson and friends call themselves the Merry Hempsters in homage to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, and they paint their bus, which is bio-fueled and solar-powered, in psychedelic colors. Can’t we get out of the ’60s already?

Harrelson, who lectures at universities along the way and encourages small, personal transformations, comes across as the most solid, articulate member of the group. He tells a dubious shopkeeper that one-fifth of all mammals and one-third of all bird species face extinction. It’s a “wow” moment that demands follow-up, but we don’t get it. The film is one-sided—no loggers or Monsanto reps—and that side isn’t very deep.

The most dramatic parts of the journey take place off-camera. A Hempster crashes his bike so badly he requires hospitalization. We don’t see it. Harrelson is confronted by loggers at a bar, where he is called Woody Allen and told to get out of town. We don’t see it.

It doesn’t mean “Go Further” is a total loss. It argues well for yoga and red wiggler worms (to be used in landfills), but the most indelible moment is a chilling one: Clark’s casual conversation with three kids in a pickup truck near the papermill town of Toledo, Ore. What do these kids do for fun? Inhale computer duster.

“It’s like 10 bucks a can at Staples,” a girl says enthusiastically before demonstrating. The Merry Hempsters are soon back on their psychedelic bus, but it would’ve done the film good to stick around a little longer in that dead-end town, with those dead-end kids.

—Origianlly appeared in The Seattle Times on November 12, 2004

© 2004 Erik Lundegaard