Written and directed by Zach Braff, Garden State is the inspired account of one man’s journey towards self-discovery, a journey that ultimately brings him back in touch with a reality that had eluded him for years.
Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor living in Los Angeles. Having taken prescribed lithium since the age of nine to combat ‘behavioral problems’, Andrew has spent most of his life in a medicated daze. When his disabled mother passes away, Andrew returns home to New Jersey for the funeral, but leaves the lithium in L.A. Back home for the first time in years, Andrew runs into some old friends, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and Jesse (Armando Riesco), and even manages to make a new one; the vivaciously attractive and extremely out-going Sam (Natalie Portman). Without his medication to hold him back, Andrew discovers that he genuinely enjoys experiencing life, a sensation the lithium had deprived him of for so many years. In fact, Andrew feels so good that he may finally be ready to face a troubling secret from his past, one that has completely destroyed his relationship with his father (Ian Holm).
Quite subtly, Garden State presents a very convincing argument against the use of drugs. Throughout the movie, Andrew takes a variety of narcotics, legal or otherwise, which only succeed in dulling his senses. Aside from the lithium, which keeps Andrew in a near-catatonic state during the film’s opening scenes, he also experiments with some pills at a party he attends his first night in New Jersey. As with the lithium, Andrew finds the experience unfulfiilling; after taking the pills, he spends the rest of the evening sitting on a couch, completely oblivious to the good time happening all around him. Away from the drugs, Andrew feels what it’s like to be alive. He and Sam spend hours talking to each other, during which Andrew opens up about his troubled past, a past that the lithium had kept bottled up inside him for a long time. Without medication, Andrew’s mind is clear, and he’s happier than he’s been in a long time.
Aside from the above, there’s another, more personal reason I really enjoyed Garden State. I’ve been a fan of Simon and Garfunkel’s wonderful ballad, The Only Living Boy in New York ,for years. More than any song I’ve ever heard, I always thought its delightfully melancholic harmonies, if used properly, would make the perfect addition to any motion picture's soundtrack. Well, maybe Garden State isn’t the first film to use this song, but it’s the first I’ve ever seen, playing in the background as Andrew, Mark and Sam are leaving the junkyard at Kiernan’s quarry. Braff utilizes the song perfectly, creating a series of images so uplifting they completely blew me away. In a million years, I could never have come up with a better filmed sequence for this excellent tune.
With an incredibly intelligent script and some truly funny moments scattered throughout, Garden State screams, with as much energy as it can muster, that life is worth living. In a very subtle, very magical way, Garden State itself becomes a rare and astonishing life-affirming experience.
One that I hope to continue enjoying for many years to come.