The World Before Your Feet is an eye-opening stroll with a stranger: EW review
In the age of sponsored content, book deals, and reality TV, it seems almost unfathomable that someone would shoulder a massive, gimmicky undertaking for…nothing.
And yet that’s the claim from Matt Green, who’s spent over five years walking over 8,000 miles in order to walk every single block in New York City — from Harlem to Red Hook, Staten Island to the Upper East Side.
Like a proverbial mailman, Green walks rain or shine, through snowstorms so severe that vehicles are banned from the roads, taking pictures along the way of idiosyncrasies that interest him — barbershops with z’s in their names (snipz, cutz, its free-spirited cousin kutz), unofficial 9/11 memorials, synagogues that have been converted into churches. He’s equal parts tourist and tour-guide. Green befriends strangers and charms potential adversaries with information about his mission the way only a young, clean-looking white man can (he exchanges notes with a Black Jamaican immigrant who’s forced to be constantly vigilant about his appearance, wearing button-down shirts and reading glasses in order to look non-threatening). Green says he’s never been mugged.
Like Green himself, the documentary (produced by Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg) meanders without a methodically organized path. It jumps from neighborhood to neighborhood, touching on Green’s childhood, his previous jaunt walking across the country from New York to Oregon, and, all-too briefly, his ex-girlfriends.
In an earlier life, Green worked as an engineer, before realizing that his life could be more fulfilled or meaningful or interesting if he let go of all of his worldly wealth and devoted himself to his years-long quest. He has no job, and lives on $15 a day, not renting an apartment and instead just bounces among friends and acquaintances, usually cat- and dog-sitting.
Like the apostles who followed Forrest Grump as he ran cross country, one could find Buddhist wisdom or metaphorical meaning in Green’s work, even if it’s not necessarily there. It’s true he meets people, and he connects to neighborhoods that would have been all but invisible to him. But those brief interviews with Green’s ex-girlfriends reveal a more interesting analysis. He never wanted to go to movies or go out to dinner, one girlfriend said. She was competing against his pointless project for his attention. Their relationship crumbled. His project appears to be the most important thing in his life, worth sacrificing all worldly comforts and typical 30-something milestones.
At the end of the documentary, Green hits 8,000 miles, the estimate he had been using for the completion of his project. There is no fanfare or ticker tape, just Green turning back to camera and saying that somewhere on that previous block, he hit the number he had been aiming for. But, even though the streets on his progress map are almost all the artery red of completion, Green says the project is still only halfway done. There are still some sites he has to hit, plus there’s been a major backlog of photos and stories to upload to his blog. Who would he be when he finally allowed himself to be done? I got the feeling that Green didn’t want to find out.