We all have days when we daydream of casting our desk jobs aside and walking out the door to a life of unfettered freedom. Matt Green is someone who actually did it, throwing aside a life as a Manhattan-based civil engineer to walk from Rockaway Beach, New York to Rockaway Beach, Oregon over the course of five months in 2010.
Green’s wanderlust didn’t end there, however. Rather, he decided to walk every block, bridge, nook and cranny of New York City’s five boroughs — a quest that would require traversing 8,500 miles, and a feat that he has yet to complete even after six years of daily walking.
The new documentary “The World Before Your Feet” by Jeremy Workman follows Green along several months of his journeys around the Big Apple, providing a fascinating look at the city far beyond its famed skyscrapers and artist enclaves to reveal a world that includes vast open fields, abandoned areas and even unexpected forests.
The film dives in with Green wandering the city, an act he undertakes daily without fail, even in driving rainstorms and near-wipeout blizzards. Green, who has a kindness and sense of wonder otherwise found in someone like the late children’s TV icon Mr. Rogers, learned to trust in the innate kindness of people on his nationwide hike. During those travels, he found people offered food, shelter and other forms of friendly support to strangers.
In turn, what Green reveals to viewers is that taking the time to see the world one step at a time enables a close-up and detailed perspective that has been nearly forgotten in our hurried world of speeding around in vehicles. He is able to strike up conversations with people from all socioeconomic strata and ethnicities, all of whom are won over by the simple fact that he’s following his eccentric dream on a daily basis.
Describing himself as “independently homeless, not independently wealthy,” Green estimates that he has stayed in at least 50 different homes and apartments over the five years covered in the film. It’s a number that has no doubt grown in the time since then, as Green estimates that he still has about five percent of New York City to wander. Strangely, those final streets are some of the most-traversed and famous thoroughfares in the city — yet another indication of his living life in an unexpected way and exploring the roads less traveled.
The film and Matt’s quest serve as valuable reminders of some of life’s most precious lessons: that we don’t need a ton of possessions and electronic gadgetry to be happy, and to appreciate the incidental beauty that is around us constantly. Matt’s walks enable him to appreciate the goofiest details. He’s especially fond of barber shops that use the letter “Z” in a slang sort of way, in words like “cutz” on their signage. But he also recognizes the verdant beauty of abandoned fields on Staten Island and the sounds of wild birds, even amid the backdrop of bustling Manhattan just across the river.
Matt likes to say that walking “makes the invisible visible.” He also notes that in all his travels, both nationally and within New York City, he has never been beaten or mugged, and rarely encounters outright rejection. On the other hand, his nomadic and unstructured lifestyle has cost him two major relationships with women who couldn’t handle his constant desire to live spontaneously each day.
This isn’t the most exciting of movies, but there’s a real fascination in the odd rhythms of Matt’s life that draws viewers in. This is definitely the kind of movie where you should know whether you’re into the experience or not just by reading this review.
What is the purpose of all this for Matt? Throughout the film, he’s shown taking vibrant photographs that usually speak for themselves on his blog at imjustwalkin.com, and sometimes include essays on the histories of the sights and landmarks he notes.
At an earlier screening, director Workman revealed that Matt finally decided not to have his insights and photos go to waste, and had signed a book deal to share them with the world beyond his largely overlooked blog. Perhaps such a tome will inspire others to follow suit in exploring the world around them via walking. For now, the movie sets an example that is fascinating, inspiring and entertaining in its own offbeat way.
Playing at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (310) 478-3836.
“The world before your feet” Grade: B