There are a lot of great films I simply don’t recommend to my friends because I know for a fact that the average person will hate them. Most people engage with art at the level of entertainment. You can occasionally send them something challenging that they’ll enjoy in hindsight but often people will simply be bored watching them.
As much as I like Andrei Rublev or A Ghost Story, my friends would be pissed off at me if I told them they’d love watching them!
Case in point, I’m curious how an average person would react to a movie like Land. This small indie-drama just opened at Sundance this month and quickly moved into wide release to fill theaters that are struggling to fill their weekly slate of content without a steady stream of stupid blockbusters to draw new audiences back to theaters.
On its own, Land is a fairly stripped down film. It’s mostly a performance vehicle with a very laid back premise. It was only made for $1.1 million and was the freshman effort by actress Robin Wright. It’s a quintessentially solid work on narrative drama that’s been somewhat negatively maligned in the media with a 69% Rotten Tomato’s score from critics. Surprisingly, the film has an 83% approval from audiences on the same site.
Maybe this is a case where the slow, pondering art movie might actually appeal to average audiences!
The setup is pretty simple. A Middle Aged city lawyer named Edee abandons her life to become a survivalist in a Wyoming cabin following an unstated tragedy that’s befallen her family in the near past. Grieving, she cuts off all of her remaining friends and leaves herself in the wilderness with only a small portion of supplies, a rotting house and her skills. As becomes quickly apparent, her survival skills are lacking. She can’t grow food and she can’t bring herself to hunt an animal for food.
Just as she’s nearing starvation, an elderly Native American hunter stumbles upon her cabin and nurses her back to health. She tries to shoe him away to be left to her fate but he insists on coming back to train her with the essential skills she needs to survive. Over the next few months, she becomes proficient as a gardener and a Hunter to the point where she actively starts to thrive on her own.
I won’t spoil where the story goes from there but I will say that Land isn’t really a plot driven story. It’s a very simple story about grief and suicidal ideation that captures its story visually and takes you on it’s lead character’s quest to determine if she even truly wants to continue being alive.
Most of its themes are expressed visually. We see that Edee is clearly a reckless and traumatized woman who isn’t grappling with her pain in a healthy way. We see that she’s underprepared to survive on her own. Even when she’s warned that she shouldn’t be alone, she abandons her cell phone and car to cut off her contact to the outside world. She’s seemingly setting herself up for failure on purpose.
Thus the second half of the film really picks up as Edee finally starts gaining the skills she needs to thrive. The film really becomes heartwarming as we see the hard work she’s put in pay off with a bountiful harvest and warm nights by the fire. Wright’s chemistry with Demien Bichir (Miguel) is lovely. It quickly becomes clear he’s dealing with the same trauma and regret as Edee but in a different way. These two lost souls find a great deal of joy working together and learning from each other (even if their dialog is occasionally goofy in its overt pop culture references).
Land isn’t some great original film in premise or execution. Much like the recently released Minari, it’s a story about bad fortune and the drive it takes to build a life that’s worth living. That said, its performances and visual storytelling work like gangbusters! The film is simply a functional drama that finds the humanity of its characters and lays it bear. There’s tremendous honesty and pathos on display here in between the slow moments of failure and struggle.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film feels positively relatable in its depiction of isolation and depression. If there is any film that’s gratifying right now, a story about overcoming trauma and seeing what comes next in life is downright inspiring. Land is a great film to see if you’re just returning to cinemas for the first time since March of last year!