Kernel Rating: 3 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 89 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. A woman moves off the grid to an isolated corner of Wyoming after suffering a profound personal tragedy. As she tries to adjust to the harshness of the natural conditions, including freezing cold, heavy snowfall, and dangerous wildlife, including wolves and bears, she struggles with the desire to disappear. Memories of the protagonist’s past life haunt her, including individuals whom she’s lost; a character considers suicide by gunshot wound; and there are some tense, life-threatening sequences where the protagonist might succumb to starvation or hypothermia. Characters talk about the trauma of their pasts, including family members whom have been killed. A character is revealed to be dying of a fatal illness but is given the opportunity to say goodbye.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Land” is a deceptively easy movie to watch. Robin Wright’s directorial debut, shot in Canada and ostensibly set in Wyoming, takes us high up into the mountains, into endless blankets of unmarked snow, incredibly tall evergreens, and a night sky full of stars. Extremely wide shots capture the wildness here, and the beauty of it all, and especially watching this film now—when so many of us have been living inside for the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around the world—feels like being transported to another world.
But “Land” doesn’t romanticize anything: neither the trauma that plagues its protagonist, nor the harshness of this landscape. That refusal makes the ending even more worthwhile. And before then, “Land” might be a thought-provoking watch for teenagers struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation, or who might be searching for more physically engaging experiences than those found on virtual screens. “Land” serves as both an invitation and a warning: a reminder that the world outside is beautiful and challenging, and that underestimating it—or yourself—are choices you make at your own peril.
“Land” follows Edee (Wright), a woman who is fleeing her past. The film opens with a failed therapy appointment, during which Edee is clearly having a rough time: “It’s really difficult to be around people because they want me to be better,” Edee shares. Although we don’t yet know what horrible tragedy has so destroyed Edee, the truth of what happened takes a backseat to how Edee reacts to it. After failing to connect with a therapist or with her estranged sister (Kim Dickens) about the depth of her loss, Edee makes a bold—perhaps even reckless—decision. She gets rid of most of her belongings, throws her cellphone away, sells her home, and moves up into the wild mountains of Wyoming. After being driven up to her cabin by the seller, she even requests that he get rid of the truck they used to move—Edee wants no connection to the outside world, and no way to return to it.
It’s all very extreme, as if Edee is punishing herself for being alive. Great chunks of “Land” pass with no dialogue at all as Edee goes about her days: setting up her cabin, getting the outhouse sorted, traipsing down the mountain to collect water at a nearby river, planting seeds in hopes of growing a vegetable patch, setting lines for fish, trying to work up the nerve to hunt. Nighttime brings sounds she didn’t anticipate: the howling of wolves, the heavy footsteps of what could be a bear, the complete pitch-black night. What kind of disaster would lead Edee to choose this life? And is she even prepared for it?
Those questions are asked, slowly and gently, by Miguel (Demián Bichir), a man whose path crosses with Edee’s. During his hunting trips, he would stay at the cabin Edee recently bought, and he knows the land better than she does, and knows how to survive off it better than she does. When she asks for his help, he gives it to her. When she asks about what brings him to these mountains, he tells her. And as they forge a friendship, each of them draws something out from the other—a reminder that life might be worth living.
“Land” indulges in some predictable narrative choices, but it wields them confidently. A bear attack is harrowingly stressful, and you feel Edee’s extreme desperation after seeing so many of her best-laid plans destroyed. Wright’s exhausted delivery of “This isn’t working. Nothing’s working,” is a brutal follow-up to something her therapist had said during that one appointment (“You’re alone with your pain”), but in a film with such little dialogue, it has an impact.
Still, there is something problematic, and perhaps worth discussing with teen viewers, about Edee’s privilege in wandering into a dangerous place and assuming that everything will work out. Does the film rely too much on Miguel, a Latin American man, to save Edee? Is their relationship equal? Is it selfish of Edee to make the choice she does, and how could she have acted differently? “Land” certainly invites that kind of analysis, especially in the film’s final moments. But Wright’s performance is strong and the locations are beautiful to look at, and the film is at least self-aware enough to acknowledge the dangers of romanticizing, or underestimating, the great outdoors.
“Land” is playing in theaters starting on Feb. 12, 2021.