Edee (Robin Wright) asks Miguel (Demian Bichir), the man who has just come to her rescue, why he helped her. “You were in my path,” he responds. That exchange sums up Land in a nutshell. From Into the Wild to Nomadland, there have been a number of quality movies about people living off the grid. You wouldn't think there would be much left to say on the subject. Wright, in her feature directorial debut, finds a new way to approach it. Working from a screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, she focuses on the idea that we all need other people in our lives, no matter how much we may not want them.
We don't know what has driven Edee to move into a tiny wooden cabin on the side of a mountain, far from civilization. It is clear, however, that her pain is driving her away from everyone she knows. Living without electricity, running water, and technology proves difficult. There are hazards, like bears and trying to use an outhouse in the middle of a blizzard. Edee faces these and other hurdles head-on, not because she's strong but because she's clearly punishing herself.
That leads to a chance encounter with Miguel, who nurses her back to health after she nearly succumbs to hypothermia. Edee is clear that she doesn't want him around. Instead, they make an agreement in which he'll come back just a few times to help her learn the basics of rugged self-sufficiency (hunting, skinning a deer, etc.), after which she will never see him again.
The beauty of Land lies in its simplicity. Nothing artificial happens to Edee. She doesn't fall off a cliff, or go through the ice on a frozen river, or fight off a wild animal. Her struggles are natural – she's a modern woman forcing herself to live a lifestyle for which she's ill-prepared. When Miguel shows an act of kindness, it gradually forces her to reevaluate a preconceived notion that connecting with others can only cause pain. Don't think this turns into a love story or a tale about how a man's efforts “save” a woman. Edee is her own hero, using this time of isolation to decide what works in her life and, more importantly, to what degree.
Wright conveys that idea with skill. Her performance as Edee is raw, emotional, and authentic. In the last few minutes of the film, we do find out what caused her turmoil. Those specifics don't need to be revealed any sooner or in any greater detail, because the actress shows us how badly this woman is hurting. Beyond that, Wright captures the notion that what Edee puts herself through in nature still pales in comparison to what happened back home. Demian Bichir is also outstanding, making Miguel a patient soul who respects Edee's situation, never trying to force her to open up. Together, the two actors create a heartwarming dynamic.
In between scenes with the leads, Land drops in majestic shots of the wilderness. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski makes the location's remoteness palpable for the audience. It looks beautiful in spring and summer, threatening in winter. The visuals accentuate the personal, introspective nature of the story. Edee is physically fighting the elements, just as she's emotionally fighting trauma.
The question with a movie like this is always, Is it a downer? The answer is no. Land is certainly realistic in recognizing that life can have painful elements. But this is a story about a person figuring out what she wants from life, what she feels equipped to handle. Edee doesn't know when she first arrives at the cabin. When the end credits start to roll, she's got it more figured out, and that's uplifting.
out of four
Land is rated PG-13 for thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.