Mortality is a bitch, cinema is wont to remind us, so it is a good idea to try and achieve something before you get shuffled off this mortal coil. So it is in Ed Perkin’s documentary Garnet’s Gold, the tale of one man’s flails to make something of his life, worried he’s let much of it slip by in a cosy somnambulant fugue. Garnet Frost is an affectless, intelligent eccentric determined to discover the buried gold of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which, apocryphally, was lost in the Scottish Highlands in the 18th Century. There’s little sense he could possibly be successful, certainly as his friends see it, and you get the faintest hint Garnet himself doesn’t really think he stands a chance, either. But he wants to do something, anything, important.
Garnet makes for an affable subject, bright, curious, with an idiosyncratic turn of phrase. He spouts existential philosophies, rueful at the manner he’s lived his life. There’s intimations of failed romances, and interviews with Garnet’s ailing mother (who, at 90, is full of vim and vigour – mentally astute but physically incapable, much to her own frustration), who seems touchingly bewildered that she’s ended up quite so old quite so soon. Unfortunately, these individual strains suggest poignancy without ever coalescing into meaningful narrative: the film never digs in to provide a satisfying story arc for Garnet. That said, it is refreshing to see a documentary focus on the idea that much of what we pursue in life might end up being fruitless. The film is ballsy enough to suggest we might not find existential solace when we search for it: we may not leave much of a legacy before we go. That’s a ballad of dissatisfaction not heard very often.