A haunting, deeply affecting painful, and yet hopeful beauty suffuses every last meditative moment of Land, a film that tackles the often misunderstood issue of grief in ways both nuanced and confronting.
Directed by Robin Wright, Land tells the story of Edee (played by Wright), a woman so consumed by grief that she decides the only way to deal with it, and the inability of those around her to understand precisely what she is going through is to escape to a remote off-the-grid cabin in the Wyoming Rockies where she will leave a hermitic life, safely sealed off from the world around her.
It’s a world that has caused her nothing but the deepest and most enduring of pain with the loss of her husband and son leading her to question she is still alive at all – a line of thought that her sister Emma (Kim Dickens) tearfully begs her to lay aside) – and she is glad to be away from its incessant demands, none of which she is in any state to meet.
A city dweller who called Chicago home, Edee is ill-prepared for life out in the unforgiving wilderness of Wyoming, which veers from snowy blizzards to bucolically verdant green and which makes no allowance for whether you can cope with it or not.
It turns out that Edee, despite her best efforts, cannot.
As winter exacts an ever-greater toll on her, sapping her of food sources – Edee have never learned to hunt, fish, and trap, a deficiency that comes close to killing her – warmth and the tenacity to go on, she must confront the fact that her grief-driven change of lifestyle, while seemingly necessary in her eyes, maybe the problem, not the solution.
What makes Edee’s journey s impacting is that Land never once hurries the pace of the narrative, which upfolds in an almost dialogue-free silence, the only sounds being the wolves and bear in the forest beyond her cabin, the sound of the rushing river far below and the howl of the chill winds for which her ramshackle cabin is manifestly unable to fully protect her from.
This unforced tempo possesses a rich, almost poetic calm that would be a delight to lose yourself in if not for the fact that it is borne almost solely of Edee’s suffocatingly enervating grief.
Edee is wholly unable to do more than put one foot in front of the other, tick off lists and forge some sort of life for herself that really resembles bare basics, hanging-by-a-thread survival more than living; she can’t engage with the world outside, or people, who she tells her therapist at the beginning of the film, exhaust her because they always “expect me to be better”.
So when Miguel (Demián Bichir) finds her after she’s collapsed from cold and hunger in the depths of a punishing winter blizzard, she has to somehow reconcile her desperately impelling need for self-protective solitude with the fact that her saviour was instrumental in saving her life.
While she is grateful for the care extended to her by Miguel, and his nurse friend Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), she is also quietly but firmly adamant that she would rather he just leave her alone.
But, of course, he’s too kindhearted and attentive to do that, and so they strike a deal – he will teach her to hunt, trap and fish while also repairing her damaged roof, and in return she will consent to some form of human contact.
Land is lavishly moving because it doesn’t demand that Edee suddenly get over her grief on a timeframe that suits others; this is Edee’s journey, and Edee’s journey alone, and at every stage along the way that is respected with the film, written with deep empathy and profound humanitarian insight by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, taking its time in allowing her to slowly step her way back to the human race.
In keeping with this spirit, Miguel only ever relates to her on her terms.
He visits persistently true but only ever with Edee’s acquiescence, something that is ever more available as she finally begins to come to terms with the calamitous loss she has suffered, and one of the great joys, among many, of Land is watching the way in which their strikingly beautiful and richly beneficial friendship develops.
If you have ever been lost in the seemingly unending miasma of grief, you will be all too aware of what it is like to feel as if your pain and confronting sense of loss has no possible end; Land acknowledges this wholly and without reserve, but it also offers up hope and an assurance that one person’s considerate kindness can make a profound difference to someone trying to claw their way back to whatever it is passes for normalcy in their life these days.
What emerges most strongly, besides Miguel’s transformative kindness and his willingness to respect without reservation what Edee wants every step of the way, is Edee’s tenacity, her will to stay the course.
She is challenged beyond measure by her grief, the elements, her inertia and a grinding sense that what she thought was a way to fix things may simply be making them worse, but she hangs in there ultimately, held aloft by a will to live that defies other urges within her, the kindness of a selfless man and a sense that maybe life has something left to offer her after all.
Land‘s great gift, apart from sweepingly limitless cinematography and minimally beautiful music that you can get lost in just as Edee longs to do, is that it never once proposes easy solutions nor pretends that the road out of grief is an easy or simple to navigate one.
It is hard, it is not linear and it breaks your heart over and over again, and Land perfectly reflects all of that, but you do eventually emerge from it, something we see Edee begin to do but only after a great deal of heartache, tenacity and effort, and most crucially, the unconditional love and support of someone who has been there and understands what it takes to find yourself after so long lost in the dark passages of life.