First, we had Wild with Reese Witherspoon. Then, we had Nomadland with Frances McDormand. Now, we have Land directed by and starring Robin Wright. While all three of these films showcase a white woman who refuses the societal norms in order to reconnect with nature, the first two are worth watching while Land falls flat.
Wright portrays Edee, a woman who has lost all hope after a traumatizing event. She no longer wants to be around people, including her sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), so she decides to escape to the forest-lined beauty of Wyoming. While Edee might think this poetic desertion represents her best chance at healing, she soon learns how unequipped she is for such a rugged lifestyle. Sounds from the coyotes at night are nothing compared to using the cold outhouse in the middle of the night, or the bears that will ravage your cabin.
On top of the physical obstacles nature brings, Edee’s visions and flashbacks of her husband and son are further evidence of her distress. There is a moment in Land when she is down by the riverbank attempting to catch something for dinner and suddenly, a young boy and his father appear beside her and they cast a line. Edee smiles before remembering this is not actually happening. It is an imagined desire only seemingly brought into her reality.
Her lack of preparation is nearly fatal when she is found almost starved to death by Miguel (Demián Bichir), a local man who nurses Edee back to health. Although she insists she only wants to be alone, he promises to teach her the basics of survival before honoring her wishes. The two begin to trap game, fish in the nearby river, and cut firewood to keep warm during the cold nights. As their friendship grows, a platonic intimacy develops, which allows both of them to heal from the pain they carry with them.
The exact situation that has caused Edee so much grief is unknown to the audience, but the concept of loss is understood through her desperate actions and impulses. In a key moment of Land, Edee threatens to take her own life, an onscreen scene made intense due to its subject matter and Wright’s performance. Her entire being transforms into a woman completely overtaken by agony.
Complementing Wright’s performance is the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski. In the beginning, there are more close-ups, some even appearing distorted, which add an extra layer of claustrophobia and show us the main character’s entrapment by her unruly emotions. By the time Edee arrives at the mountains, landscape shots of the glorious blue sky or the stunning sunsets capture a sort of freedom that exists only in nature.
While Land might be a well-cast, decent looking film, it is boring. After Edee arrives at the cabin, the film drags from moment to moment, picking up only after the appearance of Miguel. Even then, the filmmaking is lackluster, forgetting completely about these complex emotions that were built up in the first act and causing them to fizzle.
As if this pacing isn’t confusing enough, the ending comes out of nowhere, rushed as the end credits abruptly appear on the screen. After visiting Miguel at his home, Edee is ready for the first time in two years to reach out to her sister. This undermines the character’s complete grieving process, showing something much too tidy to be the end result of the same situation that was introduced in the opening moments.
The lack of development hurts the other supporting characters. When Miguel finds Edee dying in her cabin, he brings a local nurse — Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) — to help revive her. It is evident that Alawa is a Native woman, yet while two passing references to a reservation are made, no mention of an exact tribe is stated.
More Native characters appear randomly in one of the final scenes at Miguel’s home, performing some sort of ritual, yet again there is no mention of who they are. The choice to have Native characters in Wyoming makes sense, as that is the traditional home of the Shoshone, Crow, Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. However, the decision to use them as plot devices is uncomfortable.
Land remains just a bland movie about a white woman who escapes to nature to find herself. The landscape is beautiful and the beginning shows potential, but the rest is slow and simple before reaching an unfulfilling conclusion. The cast is warm and welcoming, but the overall result is lifeless, like a glorified Hallmark movie with a big name actor making their directorial debut.
Related Topics: Demián Bichir, Land, Robin Wright, Sundance