While visiting friends in the rural area around Missoula, Montana, I heard about what the locals termed “mountain bachelors”. These were guys who purposely had fallen off the grid, often due to trauma (like Vietnam vets, for instance), living up in a remote cabin away from society. They’d emerge every now and then to check on each other, or help cut up a tree that had fallen across the road for instance. But in general, they wanted to be left alone.
I thought of these mountain bachelors when introduced to the character of Edee, played by director Robin Wright (in her directorial debut). Edee is a city woman, crippled by grief because of the loss of her husband and young child (how this happened is not revealed until the end, but it doesn’t really matter). She gets a one way car rental to an unnamed Western town where she buys an abandoned shack of a cabin way off the grid, tosses her cell phone in the trash, grabs everything sensible looking from the shelves at the hardware store, and fills up the car with non-perishable foods. When someone comes to pick up and take away her only transportation (much against the advice of the local real estate agent), she is absolutely on her own.
It is unclear whether Edee wants to die in her grief. She sort of knows what she’s doing, but mostly not. We get the sense that she has been fishing before, for instance, but she has a big how-to book on gardening. When a bear breaks into her food storage leaving nothing but chomped broken cans and spilled grains, she realizes she needs to buck up her survival skills, and fast (it has started to snow). So much for knowing what she is doing. There is a point in trying to rough it when you lay down and wait for death.
Just before Edee becomes a statistic like that guy in Into the Wild, a man (Demián Bichir) knocks on the cabin door. The fact that a guy in a truck has pulled right up to her cabin at that point is completely jarring. You realize she is there by choice, that she actually lives in a cabin with a road, and that maybe dying would kind of be an accident. The kindly man, named Miguel, and another neighbor bring food and firewood and hydration. Miguel offers to teach her how to hunt, keep the cabin warm, and forage. You know, so that she can truly survive if indeed that is what she wants. Edee accepts the lessons. Luckily the two bond as friends–as much at arms’ length that two hermits prefer–but friends nonetheless.
Land is a brisk hour and a half. As Edee slowly processes her grief (shown through Hallmark-y flashbacks and contemplative bathing in a tub outdoors with a stupendous view), we see a woman slowly grow more confident in her skills. Undeniably, the photography and landscapes are gorgeous. Let’s just say, if anyone gets the inkling to drop off the grid and live off the fat of the land, the harshness of the difficult moments will hopefully hold a reality check for those who just dream of taking selfies in front of a rugged cabin.
Edee herself is somewhat cryptic, even though Robin Wright is always a marvelous actress to watch. Unsurprisingly, Demián Bichir instills a warmth and comfort, like an old pair of boots, to the character of Miguel. Once Edee and Miguel meet, the passage of time is not necessarily clear (we find out it is two years simply because a line of dialogue). When a tear-jerking ending shows up and Edee to reveals her past it seems both rushed and a little out of nowhere. (But I’m a sucker, so tears were produced anyway.)
Land is not a bad film nor is it a great film. It has enough empowerment to inspire you to try gardening or camping again, but enough reality to remind the average city dweller that they are better off not trying to wield an axe. Instead, sit on your couch and marvel at the beauty and cruelty of nature, without ever being in danger of frostbite.