Robin Wright’s directing debut has a quiet, Earthy elegance about it that mirrors our image of the her as an actress and a public figure. “Land” takes the director and leading lady out of her natural milieu and puts her in nature in a spare, simple parable about the healing power of solitude.
We don’t hear her name, not straight away. But we do see her suffering, riven by grief, visiting a therapist. The hoary bromides, “reach out to people” and get them to help you cope won’t work here.
“Why would I want anyone else to feel this?”
Her sister (Kim Dickens) sees it, too and struggles to get a promise — Please…”don’t hurt yourself…for me.“
But Emma, as she eventually reveals, has come to a decision. We see the closing at the realtor’s (Brad Leland), the rented SUV and U-Haul, and follow them as she heads to the Unibomber-remote cabin she’s bought in the mountains of Wyoming.
“You shouldn’t have any problems with trespassers,” the grizzled real estate agent jokes. She didn’t have to tell him what she’s told others. “It’s really difficult to be around other people.”
She seems out of her depth and naive to the agent, utterly underestimating the off-the-grid lifestyle she’s about to immerse herself in. But she’s got her few possessions, a not-quite weatherproof long-empty cabin, a “Game Processing Handbook” and a little other literature to guide her.
Fishing? Setting snares for trapping? Planting a garden? No problem. She’s got canned goods to survive on until that works out.
But we’ve seen her ditch her cell phone and send the rent truck back to town. She is beyond assistance when things go wrong.
The first “accident” isn’t fatal. The second mishap involves a bear visit. She dreams of a husband and child that are no longer with her, ghosts she packed for her move. Before long, those are hunger-driven hallucinations.
Good thing the handsome trapper (Demián Bichir) stumbles over her. Good thing he knows an above-the-call-of-duty nurse (Sarah Dawn Pledge).
The screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam is a cut-and-paste collection of archetypes marching stoically through a trail of “suffering in solitude” tropes. These were around long before Grizzly Adams taught Mountain Man ways to “Jeremiah Johnson,” before the Old Mariner instructed Josh Lucas sailboat living for his “Year in Mooring.”
Movies like this undersell the drudgery of surviving on your own. PBS did a series, “Frontier House,” that laid out the grueling math of simple firewood stockpiling. It’s exhausting and never-ending, as is getting water, killing game.
Such tales are on surer ground underscoring a single harsh truth. “The grieving process” might be the cruelest euphemism in the psychotherapist’s playbook.
Wright’s beautiful film features elegantly-composed shots, many of them “magic hour” sunsets with our heroine sipping her coffee or taking a tub bath outdoors in the golden light.
The acting is superb and spare, as you might expect. Wright could run an acting school and the cinema would be the richer for it. Here, it’s not just her but her co-stars who master understatement. Sarah Dawn Pledge is the least experienced of the lot and gets across big emotions and realizations in a single, simple look or gesture. Dazzling.
The formidable Bechir fills those Sage of the Mountains boots with ease.
“Only a person who has never been hungry would think starving is a good way to die.”
“Why are you helping me?” “You are in my path.”
But if you’re looking for surprises, look elsewhere. As a fan of this “Wild,””Into the Wild,” “All is Lost,” survival genre, I can say there is nothing here you can’t see coming, not from that breathtaking mountainside vantage point.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity |
Cast: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir, Sarah Dawn Pledge, Kim Dickens and Brad Leland
Credits: Directed by Robin Wright, script by Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam. A Focus Features release.
Running time: 1:29