Grief is a tough subject to tackle. Everyone, at some point in life, will experience the loss of a loved one. While death and loss are typically hard to address in real life (people rarely know what to say or how to help), the exploration of such emotions are often mishandled in films that opt for a less complex or abridged version of the process. Usually, a brooding character works through the stages of grief in unhealthy ways — revenge, endless rage, or by shutting down completely. In Land, actress Robin Wright’s directorial debut, the sad, isolated feelings that come with bereavement saturate the story, but the film has surprisingly very little to say about grief.
Following a tragic loss, Edee (Wright) struggles with her grief and with being around others in general. Her sister Emma (Kim Dickens) tries to be there for her, but Edee is too far gone and unable to cope despite the support of Emma and a therapist. Needing to get away, Edee abandons her phone and her previous life in exchange for a quiet and peaceful existence in the Wyoming wilderness. However, life isn’t exactly easy in the wild and Edee has no idea what she’s doing at first, believing that her solitary confinement would assuage some of her sadness. Caught in a treacherous blizzard, Edee’s life is saved by local hunter Miguel (Demián Bichir) and nurse Alawa Crow (Sarah Dawn Pledge) and she must contend with her new lease on life.
Wright’s performance is devastating and heartbreaking. As Edee, she keeps Miguel at arm’s length as they forge a friendship that is grounded in the need for human contact and an unspoken respect for each other’s boundaries. Wright is distant, but slowly opens herself up as the film goes on, something which is exposed through her changes in body language. Miguel is a friend of convenience at first, someone who can teach Edee the way of life she’s stubbornly chosen for herself. Bichir is wonderful here, effusing a formidable, yet gentle, strength and kindness that quickly earns Edee’s trust.
Together, the characters commune and listen to ‘80s music, though there’s a wide chasm between them due to Edee’s unwillingness to speak on her personal loss. In addition to the superb acting, Land’s sense of serenity is brought to life through lingering shots of the wilderness’ beauty. Snow-capped mountains and trees, the sounds of animals and running river water, and the undisturbed lushness of nature adds to the calming sense of quiet that Edee is chasing. As a director, Wright has an eye for such things, knowingly layering the story with details that bring the audience into Edee’s secluded life.
However, for a film that is only a cool hour and a half long, Land often feels agonizingly slow. The script — written by Jesse Chatham with revisions by Erin Dignam — also leaves a lot to be desired. How short-sighted Edee must be to think she could move on from her loss by being alone in the wilderness. While her early feelings of not being comfortable being around people are understandable, there’s a sense of privilege in being able to leave it all behind and escape. What’s more, Edee effectively runs away from her emotions rather than allowing herself to face them head on. Her inability to talk about her loss is relatable, but the film has nothing much to say about grief or the healing process.
The character’s own avoidance ultimately forces Land to stand still. Rather than explore the complexities of handling loss in a world that would want Edee to move on, the film is filled with long, quiet brooding that falls incredibly short of being fulfilling. The landscape and setting often act as substitutes for character development and exploration. Time seems to pass without consequence as the calm fills in the gap for proper introspection. For a film that centers the quiet sadness and mental retreat of grief, Land equivocates with regards to the topic, stifling any meaningful growth.
Land will be released in theaters on February 12. The film is 89 minutes long and is rated PG-13 thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity.
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