by Nuha Hassan
Anthony Hayes’ Gold is set in the near future, possibly in the Southern Australian Outback, where resources are limited. Between the barren landscape and the scorching heatwave, it seems like the world is close to an environmental disaster. Man One (Zac Efron) arrives at a train station searching for a job with the hopes of changing his life. Man Two (Hayes) takes Man One to The Compound in his semi-operational car. As they continue their journey, Man One drives the car while Man Two sleeps in the passenger seat. Man One cranks up the air conditioning which causes the car to break down. Both of them are stranded in the middle of nowhere, only sand and stone in every direction when Man One discovers a gold nugget. They hatch a plan to excavate their bounty, but one man has to stay behind to ensure that it is safe. Man Two leaves Man One behind to find the necessary equipment, and he faces the extreme surroundings. But little does he know that there are harsher beings that lurk beneath the darkness in the desert.
Gold is a story of human greed and how it takes hold of someone in times of need. The film, which takes place in a dystopian future, does not offer much world-building. What we know about the world is from billboards written in multiple languages and the multicultural factor exists in this universe. The movie suggests there are multiple world currencies such as the US Dollar and the Chinese Yen, and the radio programs indicate there is an increase in Bitcoin too. That information is not relayed to the audience — not even through dialogue when the two drifters are conversing in the car on their way to The Compound. The audience knows the world of Gold is set within the distant future, however, they are not aware of how the world ended up in that situation.
The backbone of Gold is the relationship between Man One and Man Two, and how they both symbolise humanity. Their acquaintance began with their luck of finding the gold nugget, which eventually turned into distrust. Man One and Man Two are faced with the decision of who should stay behind with the bounty and who should leave to fetch the equipment. This is when the first test begins. Neither of them wants to go, but Man One convinces Man Two that he should be the one who stays behind because he doesn’t know the way around the area. Before Man Two leaves, they quickly decide they need to trust each other to secure their bounty, however, there was always a chance of them betraying the other. Everyone has greed and distrust embedded within them, and when it comes down to these two drifters, there is always going to be someone who takes the gold for himself. The symbolic significance of greed is presented in the stray dogs that kill each other for food. The narrative of greed within the open space of the desert becomes an important part of the movie’s themes.
Gold is a slow-burn movie that completely relies on the performance of Efron, whose eyes do the acting, rather than dialogue. A chunk of the movie consists of Efron surviving in the scorching heat as he struggles to maintain physical and emotional wellbeing. There is dust and dirt everywhere and after a while, the audience is barely able to see Efron’s face. However, Gold shows a new side of Efron that has never been seen before and hopefully, this performance elevates his career. In terms of narrative and setting, there are parts of the movie that reaches the surface level of things but doesn’t expand much on the dystopian nature of the universe.