“Why are you helping me?” “You were in my path.”
Surviving may be all that someone can handle at times. It’s not just a matter of physical survival, but can require surviving the kind of pain and sorrow that seeks to kill one’s soul and spirit. In Land, the directorial debut of Robin Wright, a woman who cannot stand her pain seeks to live as a hermit seeking to avoid all human contact. But will that be the answer to her suffering?
Edee (Wright) is obviously in pain. In an early scene in a therapist’s office, she is asked about sharing her feelings. She replies, “Why would I want anyone to share in [what I’m feeling]? She can no longer stand trying to meet the expectations of how quickly she should “move on” from her grief.
She buys a remote cabin in the Rockies. There is no one around for miles. She settles in with no phone and no vehicle. She soon discovers she is ill-prepared for the challenges of such a life. She hasn’t considered that the deer will eat anything she plants. She hasn’t expected a bear to go into the cabin and destroy all the food while Edee is in the outhouse. As fall gives way to winter, her situation becomes ever more precarious. Perhaps she sees this as a passive suicide, but in any case, we know she will not survive here for long.
When she is at the point of death, someone comes into the cabin. Miguel (Damián Bichir) has been on a hunt and noticed no smoke from the chimney. With the help of Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), a Native American nurse, Miguel cares for her until she is strong enough to be alone again. He offers to teach her what she needs to know to live the life she has chosen, then leave her alone. In their interaction, and the friendship they develop in the process, Edee becomes self-sufficient, but is that enough for her to have a full life?
While the ability to physically survive may keep Edee alive in this remote setting, we sense that it is not a life that can truly sustain her spirit. She is not so much working through grief as she is waiting for the pain to subside enough for her to be willing to connect to other people. While the trapping and hunting skills Miguel shares with her are vital, the truly important thing he gives her is a chance to be with another person and have no emotional commitment. It allows her to heal at her own pace with no judgment.
At one point, Edee refers to Miguel as Yoda (a reference he doesn’t understand because he’s never seen a Star Wars movie). Yoda, of course, taught Luke Skywalker far more than Jedi skills. Edee recognizes that Miguel has been sharing wisdom with her. He stays within the confines of the relationship that Edee has set (including no news of the outside world), but he offers her a model of someone who has also come through a soul-scarring experience. She sees in Miguel someone who very well may have chosen the life of a hermit at some point. And we learn that he, too, is in need of finding grace.
The film relishes the awesome (and at times terrible) beauty of the landscapes. But it also wants us to look beyond the external beauty to understand that the beauty of life can also be both awesome and terrible. Edee has lived out the terrible part. Because of this, she may no longer appreciate life that can fill her with light, warmth, and satisfaction. More than anything else, Miguel brings Edee the hope that she can heal.
Land premiered at Sundance Film Festival and will soon open in theaters (where open).