The Same River Twice

Change in life is inevitable, and the sometimes the contrast between ones beliefs and actions as a young man or woman are vastly different twenty years down the line. Robert McNamara did an amazing job of looking back at the mistakes he made in The Fog of War, which recently won the Academy Award. Rob Moss is the filmmaker behind The Same River Twice, about a group of people who spent the summer of 1978 as river guides in the Grand Canyon. He revisits these people a little more than twenty years later and catches up with them. As adults, they may look the same as they did twenty years ago, but their lives are strikingly different. For one, their trip along the Colorado River was usually clothing optional. They lived a hippie-like existence with each other and the secluded canyons around them.

There is one big problem with The Same River Twice. Moss, who was one of the members of the expedition, does not say much about what happened in 1978. There is a lot of footage, but he doesn't give any general idea of who his subjects were back then. How can one examine the changes in their lives when it's not clear where they started from? Some of these people are obviously intelligent, but seeing them in all their glory in 1978 feels at times like nothing more than watching a nudist beach. What are these people thinking about? What are their beliefs, their ideals, and their dreams? The footage shows between ten and twenty river guides on the expedition, but Moss only chose to catch up with five of them.

The present is more interesting, only because of the intimacy that Moss' friends allow him. On an interesting note, three of the five have held some sort of public office at the community level. Jeff and Cathy were deeply in love in 1978, but are now divorced with two children. Jeff now works as an author and radio host, while Cathy is the mayor of Ashland, OR. Danny is married with young children, and recently started work as an aerobics instructor in New Mexico. Barry is the mayor of Placerville, CA, running for reelection. Jim, who was the leader in 1978 that everybody aspired to be like, is still a river guide, and seems to live pretty much the same way as he did twenty years ago (albeit this time with clothes).

They are definitely interesting people, but with so little information given about the past, it's hard to see where their emotional growth is. Danny does say some interesting things about hiding her past of drug experimentation from her children, and Jeff does admit that he was not ready for marriage, but otherwise everything that Moss focuses on happens in the present. Jeff has a book tour, Barry has the campaign and his family, and Jim is building a house. It is definitely not boring, but the river trek is the only thing connecting these people, and it is a thin connection at best. If he removed all the footage, The Same River Twice would be a documentary about a group of people, perhaps coming to a crossroad in their lives. By not delving more into the past, Moss makes his documentary much less meaningful than he intended.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 28 minutes, Not Rated but contains lots of nudity, and some language, an easy R.

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