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Land

Land

Whenever I see shots like this, my first and only thought
is always "what the fuck are they looking at?"

dir: Robin Wright

2021

You have to feel a bit bad for Robin Wright. I mean you personally don’t have to; you’ve got more than enough on your plate.

Always the bridesmaid. She was in that series House of Cards where they discovered Kevin Spacey had been the main character for years, like it was a surprise, then they got rid of him, and it didn’t last another season with her as the lead. She was married to Sean Penn, which couldn’t have been easy, but she gave some tremendous performances in films he directed. And now she thought, it’s my time to shine. She tried, goddamnit. Along came a story she felt was so good, she had to star in it and direct it, and it would give her the plaudits and respect she deserved after such a long and celebrated career.

It’s a story about a woman who’s isolated, who’s grief-stricken, who sets out to live a different life from the one she led before away from civilization.

But the problem is, well, this came out just after Nomadland, didn’t it, so she looks like an also-ran, even down to calling her flick Land.

So probably not for the first time in her life, all the awards and adulation that could, that should have flowed to her, instead flowed to Frances McDormand.

Fuck, that’s got to burn you up inside a little bit. Maybe not. Maybe Robin Wright is just happy if a handful of people see what she put together with her own two hands. Because, considering the timing, I doubt even Wright’s friends and family have gotten to see this thus far.

It’s…they haven’t missed much. It feels churlish to compare the two films, even if they start from a similar place, even if they start with similar protagonists. The character here has so much grief about something that she doesn’t even tell anyone what she’s grieving until the very last few minutes of the movie. So for most of it we’re wondering why she longs for death so much.

A city woman moves to the very remotest part of Wyoming, with no intention or plan of ever leaving. She buys an unpowered shack, and basically, though she has taken some rudimentary steps to prolong her life, and brought some tools with which to live off the land, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and it really looks like cover for wanting to die without explicitly committing suicide.

Which is a pretty grim fate.

Before she made the move, we see her desperate sister (Kim Dickens) trying to make contact with her, and when this main character of Edee played by Robin Wright throws her mobile into a bin we know she doesn’t want that contact at all.

When she gets to the cabin she asks the realtor to organise for someone to come and collect the rental car and the trailer she used to get there. When he says something like “you need to have a vehicle, being out here, so isolated” she makes noises like “yeah, nah, not an issue.”

It’s funny, probably only to me, that there are similarities not with Nomadland at this stage, but with a different flick directed by her erstwhile husband and director, being Into The Wild, a flick about another damaged person who wants to isolate themselves in nature. In that flick, Alexander Supertramp / Chris McCandless arrives in the wilderness completely unprepared, and pays the ultimate penalty for it because of his romantic idea about how cool it would be to live off the land in Alaska.

In fucking Alaska.

Edee here may be similarly unprepared, but she has no fucks left to give. And unlike McCandless, when she is at death’s door after a cascade of bad decisions, some helpful, gentle soul happens upon her and saves her at the last minute.

Not only does this hunter Miguel (an utterly superb Demián Bichir) save her life, but he teaches her all the things she needed to know from the start. That’s not fair: she never really intended to survive that long, so it’s not naiveté that pushed her forward, it was a deathwish / her grief.

Grief is really getting a workout in every movie and in almost every form of media lately. This week alone every movie I’ve seemed to see and even three different tv series all had female protagonists motivated by grief or at least overwhelmed by grief as they try to do a whole bunch of other stuff.

The only other thing this flick has in common with Nomadland is that whatever relationship that develops between the main character and anyone else in these flicks isn’t as a way of coming back to life or finding a new family / partner in order to replace the one they’ve been grieving for, for over an hour and a half. But these relationships matter nonetheless. Miguel as well has lost his family, but his guilt isn’t survivor guilt like Edee’s. Oh no, no it’s not, it’s a bit of a gut punch, considering when the circumstances in which the revelation comes as well.

But theirs is the quiet friendship of people who ask not much of each other on any other level, and he’s got so much to share with her about the outdoors, and in her perhaps he feels he can make up for what went wrong in the past, and maybe keep her alive. Who knows, maybe she might even thrive.

The dynamics here couldn’t be more different than in Nomadland. McDormand, when the character needs it, recedes from the scene. She is placed in tandem, compositionally, with nature, with anything else in the scene, whether it’s a person, or nature, or the sky. Wright centres far more of everything around the character, her own performance, because I think maybe there was more of an intention to get the audience to “feel” the character’s struggles. Also, there’s plenty of musical cues and postcard shots of wilderness, to emphasise just how unlikely survival out there is for us soft humans. I’m not saying it’s a better or worse approach than that taken by Chloe Zhao in Nomadland; it’s just interesting to contrast the two.

I think for all her efforts, her work performance-wise gets eclipsed by Demián Bichir, who’s just such a keen Mexican actor in so many flicks, doing so much the less he extends himself. I hate to bring real life into people’s performances, but there’s such sadness in his performance, and his wife Stefanie Sherk committed suicide in 2019, so it’s hard not to think about that. Actors have stuff that happens in their lives independent of onscreen craziness, and you just wish it could all be make believe, but it’s impossible for our own sorrows not to seep in to the things we do and say, artistically or otherwise.

I have to admit I was far more moved by what happened to Miguel than I was by anything that happened or didn’t happen to Edee. I can get emotionally closed off characters; I can even get where depressed and suicidal characters are sometimes coming from, but here, with Edee, I didn’t really *really* understand where she was coming from, a lot of the time. It just seemed, I dunno, artistically indulgent, but I won’t keep going on about it.

It’s an enjoyable enough movie. It has some of those elements that those of us who fantasise about living off the land without plumbing and such watch and think “I could totally ace that”, thus deluding ourselves because we went camping one time and survived. And there are some solid performances under all the scenery and scene-setting.

Land. Come back to the land. Come back to Country.

7 times in similar circumstances I would have died from an ingrown toenail within the first couple of days out of 10

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“Eating squirrels is motivation to get a deer.” – it could also motivate you to get your amateurish arse back to the city, but that’s just me - Land

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