New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Sundance 2021 Review: Land

By Andrea Thompson

Some movies are haunted by the specter of films that came before, but even if “Land” exorcises its main predecessor fairly early on, mentions of “Wild” are to be expected, since both films follow women consumed by grief who turn to nature to find their way back to life and living again.

Robin Wright, however, has no problems coming into her own as a director in her feature debut, where she also plays Edee, a woman on the verge of far more than a nervous breakdown. When we first see her using a more traditional coping method in a therapist’s office, her face is shrouded in shadow, even in the brightly lit world of a city she now feels completely alone in. When she throws her cell phone in the trash a few minutes later, you know there are major changes afoot, and sure enough, she’s soon headed to a remote cabin in the mountains, where catharsis or horror typically await, depending on the genre. 

Wright isn’t going for a backpacking trip though; she’s in it for the long haul. Like most people of means who’ve never been at the mercy of anyone or anything, especially the elements, she refuses to take the proper precautions and almost pays the ultimate price for it, especially when she’s up against a force Reese Witherspoon was smart enough to avoid: winter. She only survives thanks to two strangers named Alawa Crow (Sarah Dawn Pledge) and Miguel Borras (Demián Bichir), who discover her by sheer luck and nurse her back to health while respecting her desire to remain where she is rather than be taken to a hospital.

From there, “Land” could’ve easily devolved into a simplistic story where Miguel instructed Edee in life and love, but the film is smart enough to at least avoid some cliches. While the two do form a platonic connection that’s partly (and coincidentally) based in mutual grief over the untimely death of a spouse and child, Edee spends much of her screen time alone, learning to not only survive but resurrect herself as Wright strips away her movie star glamour and allows her character to fail spectacularly. Miguel is also intelligent and confident enough to occasionally call her out on her privilege even as he respects her privacy and her decisions, including completely cutting herself off from the outside world. 

But everyone is ultimately betrayed by the film’s ending, which not only demeans Miguel by playing into the trope of a saintly person of color assisting in a white person’s development and disappearing, it metes out punishment for the role he played in the death of his wife and child. Contrast that with Edee, who is deemed blameless for the demise of her husband and son, who perished in a random shooting in a public place. It also detracts from Edee’s development, since her isolation makes far less sense given how increasingly common gun violence has become and the movement which has flowered in its wake. Comfort, resources, and especially meaningful connection with others would hardly be too difficult to come by. Such an ending is a betrayal on par with the last few minutes of “Take Shelter,” transforming what could have been a tender portrait of life moving on after unfathomable loss into the worst kind of indulgence.

Grade: C-

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