The call of the wild beckons Robin Wright in Land, an introspective drama about loss, disconnection, and the healing power of nature. Making her feature directorial debut, Wright also stars as Edee, a grieving mother and wife who has lost her family in unspoken circumstances.
Feeling suicidal and without the strength to face other people, she picks up her life and moves to a dilapidated cabin in the midst of Wyoming’s mountain country. With no car and no phone, she chooses a life of complete solitude, with only her surrounding environment as companion. Of course, being from the city and with no country experience, living self-sustainably is a lot harder than imagined, and Edee soon discovers how cruel Mother Nature can be.
The story unfolds in familiar fashion, as only it can when telling a story of overcoming loss. So too does the trope of cabin life, where seasons pass and hardship follows. But this is how it must be, and the power of Land comes from the way Wright presents her story. It is a measured film, which moves at a ponderous pace and is in no hurry to reach any specific conclusion. The momentum, and lack-thereof at times, is integral to Edee’s process, and with each dilemma faced comes a moment of levity within herself.
As should be expected, the environment and its landscapes envelop Edee’s story, and the unforgiving Wyoming Mountain Region is captured beautifully by cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (Arlington Road, War on Everything). From the sun-rayed Summers to the torturous Winters, the tranquillity and treacherousness of life on the land is presented as a magnificent backdrop, juxtaposing her mental and physical wellbeing.
Wright’s lead role was assumed out of necessity, with strict scheduling and budget restraints reducing the often-arduous process of auditioning others. This is to the film’s advantage, because Wright turns over a wonderful and vulnerable performance that may have only been achievable under said circumstances. Her pain is palpable, as too is her emotional arc – which is accomplished with patience and restraint – and one can’t help but wonder if she took cues from Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, which was made while the pair were married. To be clear, that is in no way to detract from Wright’s own directorial prowess, because this debut effort is undeniably marvellous.
Compliments must also be given to Demián Bichir, who plays Miguel, a man who befriends Edee after finding her in a moment of peril. Their bond and on-screen chemistry is lovely and both players nurture the relationship throughout the story. He presents a kind-hearted, mild-mannered man with his own history of grief, and his performance is so beautifully nuanced. The fact that Bichir’s real-life wife, Stefanie Sherk, tragically passed in 2019 adds a further emotional element to the actor’s performance.
Where Land concludes is for you to discover, and regardless of its destination, it’s the journey that matters. I suspect that audiences will respond differently to the film’s finale, which is good. It’s one to discuss afterwards and perhaps the film’s prevailing social commentary isn’t even grief at all. Beware the delicate way in which Land tackles one of America’s most pressing and divisive issues, and consider how it is all the more powerful for not ramming the subject down our throats. This is a very calculated and moving film, indeed, and I hope you get to see it on the big screen.
‘Land’ opens in Australian cinemas on April 29th and was released in the United States on February 12th.