We all have days where we dream about casting our desk jobs aside and walking out the door to a life of unfettered freedom.
Matt Green is one man who actually did it, chucking aside a life of drudgery as a Manhattan-based civil engineer to walk across America 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. He walked 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.
In a new documentary, “The World Before Your Feet,” Jeremy Workman follows Green along several months of his journey, providing a fascinating look at the city far beyond the famed skyscrapers of Manhattan and the artist enclaves of Brooklyn, 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.
An atheist who nonetheless has the kindness and sense of wonder otherwise found in the late children’s TV icon Mr. Rogers, Green learned to trust in the innate kindness of people during his nationwide hike, after finding that people will still offer 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 around you, one step at a time, enables a close-up and detailed perspective that has been nearly forgotten in our hurried world of cars and high speeds.
He has the chance to strike up conversations with all socioeconomic strata and ethnicities of people, all of whom are fascinated and 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 estimated 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 said 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 that he lives his life in an unexpected way, exploring the roads less traveled.
The film and Green’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 gadgets to be happy, and that we should appreciate the incidental beauty that is around us constantly.
Green’s walks enable him to notice 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 also the verdant beauty of abandoned fields on Staten Island and the sounds of wild birds even amid the backdrop of Manhattan across the river.
Green likes to say that walking “makes the invisible visible.” He also noted 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 have cost him two major relationships with good women who couldn’t handle his constant desire to live spontaneously each day.
What is the end goal, the purpose of all this, for Green? Throughout the film, he’s shown taking vibrant photographs that usually speak for themselves on his blog, but sometimes includes essays on the histories of the sights and landmarks he notes.
On opening night, director Workman revealed that Green finally decided not to let 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, exploring the world around them on foot, but for now, the movie tells a story example that is fascinating, inspiring, and entertaining in its own offbeat way.
For information on showtimes, visit TheWorldBeforeYourFeet.com.
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