Land (2021)

A story of humanity, in the face of uncertainty.

Robin Wright’s directorial debut, Land, contemplates grief on a scale that is reflected in the landscape of rural Wyoming; the land being both a metaphor for the enormity of the emotion but also the isolation that it brings.

After losing her family in tragic circumstances, Edee (Robin Wright) makes the decision to leave the city and all who know her for the absolute solitude of a cabin in the wilds of Wyoming. The decision is made because she can no longer stand to be around other people, including her loving and worried sister Emma (Kim Dickens). Edee has mentioned suicidal ideations to her sister, who makes her promise not to hurt herself for Emma’s sake. It’s a promise that Edee doesn’t quite seem to be able to make as she sequesters herself in a ramshackle cabin without any real idea of how to survive and with almost deliberate inadequate protections to ensure she can. By removing herself from all her networks of support, she sets herself adrift to live with her ghosts and pain in solitude.

Edee looks over the land

The decision to leave the city indeed almost does kill her as she has no idea how to fend for herself. She is unable to chop wood, hunt, trap, or even get a small garden growing. After a bear destroys her meager supplies, Edee is left without food and heating in a perishing winter. At the point of starvation and freezing, she is rescued by local hunter Miguel (Demián Bichir), who calls in a nurse, Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), to help bring Edee back to health. Miguel refuses to leave Edee until she has, at least, some basic survival skills, and the two form a bond that is rooted in a quiet but mutual grief and need for some human contact, even if that contact is at first somewhat shunned by Edee.

The film is a slow meditation on grief and healing, but what stands out above all else is the landscape in which it is set. Like the landscapes in films by Debra Granik, Chloé Zhao, and Kelly Reichardt, the sense of place becomes almost a character in its own right. However, in the films of the directors previously mentioned, the human characterization sits well within the space and is given equal weight. Land lets down its characters by having very little for them to do but exist within the vast vistas that are so beautifully shot. Whilst the land becomes a metaphor for Edee’s healing, it also overtakes the dialogue and characterization of the actors.

Slowly learning to live again

Dialogue is sparse in the film, leaving Wright to do some extraordinary physical acting. She is reticent to share her experiences with Miguel, and even when he opens up about having lost his wife and son, she refuses to tell him about her own loss. For two characters who have much-shared trauma, it is somewhat of a letdown that the script by newcomer Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, Submergence (2017), leaves so much unsaid. Stunning vistas can only convey so much, and it often isn’t enough to make the audience truly feel for Edee. The film does have a sense of an interior life for Edee, but it’s curtailed by the long stretches of silence where the audience watches her slowly begin to rehabilitate herself after two years in the wilderness.

Wright’s direction is relatively assured, and her collaboration with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, Arlington Road (1999), leads to some genuinely grand shots of the wilderness. However, the pacing of the film is almost glacial to the point of near somnambulance. Slow cinema can create wonders, but here the lack of engagement with the characters makes the film seem far longer than it is.

Miguel and Edee in the wild

Wright is an accomplished performer and manages to embody the grief-stricken Edee in a competent, if not entirely engaging, manner. Demián Bichir, Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), as Miguel is a welcome presence on screen, and as the film progresses, his story becomes perhaps more heartfelt and resonant than Edee’s journey back to the world of the living.

Land is a film that fails to engage because it relies so heavily on visual metaphor over emotional resonance. By the time the audience is given the full spectrum of emotions that the film contains, they are likely to be exhausted by the waiting for something that is more than landscaped profundity to occur. For director/star Wright this film could have been something significant if she didn’t place herself second to the land she was filming on.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Nadine Whitney

Land is released through Universal Pictures Australia