People deal with grief in different ways. Some surround themselves with those who offer comfort. Others shun any human contact. Edee (Robin Wright) falls into the latter group. When her therapist asks if she’s shared what happened, Edee responds, “Why would I want to share that?” To her sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), she asks, “Why am I here anymore?”
Watching Edee’s deterioration, Emma is concerned she might kill herself. Instead Edee packs up, leaves her Chicago apartment, and drives to Wyoming. She buys, sight unseen, a property that hasn’t been inhabited for years. While the real estate agent is thrilled to have made the sale, he’s concerned about her being in the remote mountain area alone, particularly when she tells him to have someone come the next day to pick up her car and the UHaul van. Having already tossed her cellphone, Edee is emphatic. Isolation is her goal.
To describe the home Edee’s purchased as a log cabin is a stretch. It’s little more than a shack with no electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. There’s an outhouse yards from the house, and what looks like a workshop with some tools. She does what she can to clean the interior and places on a shelf the canned goods she’s brought with her. It doesn’t take long, however, for Edee to understand that she’s woefully unprepared for this wilderness adventure. She has trouble cutting wood to keep a fire going. Her attempts to catch fish or trap a small animal for food, fail. In the outhouse, she’s terrified when a large bear attacks the structure, then invades the cabin, destroying furniture and taking some of her food.
The tragedy that has upended Edee’s life involves the deaths of her husband, Adam (Warren Christie), and young son, Drew (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), but the details are not revealed until the end of the film. Edee’s pain is palpable (Wright’s performance, while understated, packs a wallop), and when she’s curled up on the cabin’s floor, freezing and starving to death, the fight seems to have gone out of her. In fact, she seems to welcome death.
Miguel (Demián Bichir), and his sister, Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), who is a nurse, show up just in time. While Alawa wants to take Edee to the hospital, she refuses. Miguel starts a fire, Alawa starts an IV, and they do what they can to make Edee comfortable. After Alawa goes back to the hospital, Miguel stays to watch over Edee. Until she’s out of danger, he sleeps in his truck. When she’s better, he stops by each day to prepare some food – broth first, then later the noodles approved by Alawa. How did he know she was in trouble? Miguel says he hunts in the area and saw smoke coming out of the chimney one day. When he passed again and there was no smoke, he feared she needed help.
Edee agrees to let Miguel continue his visits and teach her how to hunt and fish. But she has one caveat: no news from the outside world. They settle into a companionable relationship. He’s a good teacher, she’s a fast learner and doesn’t shy away from shooting and butchering a deer. Their conversations grow longer, but Miguel doesn’t ask questions. Mostly they talk about music, specifically 80s rock, his favorite. He sings (badly) lyrics from Tears for Fear’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Edee remains on her guard, however. When Miguel comments that living in the wilderness means she won’t have to celebrate holidays, she accuses him of searching for her on the Internet. “I don’t even know your last name!” he protests. Another hint that what happened to Edee’s family made headlines.
Miguel is recovering from his own personal tragedy, a major reason he’s compelled to help Edee. But his insistence that looking forward, not backward, is the way to heal begins to resonate with Edee. Will it be enough for her to pick up the pieces of her life and return to civilization?
Wright, not known for overacting, exhibits similar restraint here, both in the role of Edee and in her direction, her first helming a feature film. The script (Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam), is not heavy on dialogue and that works beautifully with two actors whose physical gestures and facial expressions convey volumes. Cinematography by Bobby Bukowski captures both the beauty and the danger of Moose Mountain in Alberta, Canada, where the film was shot. The passage of time is felt in the changing seasons.
In her director statement included with press materials, Wright notes: “We couldn’t know when we were making [Land] that a global pandemic would leave people grieving all over the world. I can’t and don’t presume that this film can speak to what they’re going through. Land is a story about one person’s experience dealing with extreme adversity, I hope it inspires audiences to believe in their own resilience and the capacity we all have to shine a light with simple kindness.”
Top photo: Robin Wright stars as “Edee” in her feature directorial debut LAND, a Focus Features release. Credit : Daniel Power / Focus Features
Land opens in theaters February 12, 2021.