Movie Review: Survival Drama “Land” Rich With Tenderness, Wisdom

Robin Wright in "Land"

Those of who have savored a session of meditative forest bathing or enjoyed the jasmine-scented escape of a camping trip—or, this being Boca, a glamping vacay with full kitchen and fake fireplace—can attest to their regenerative powers. There’s nothing like an off-the-grid meander, whether two hours or two days, to stir the soul.

Robin Wright’s directorial debut “Land,” opening in theaters Thursday, plays off these expectations of Gaia as healer only to confound them. The director stars as Edee, a bereaved wife and mother who packs all of her belongings into a U-Haul and purchases a remote cabin in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We’ve already seen her dispose of her iPhone and cut off communication with her sister, but, surely, everything will be OK. Overhead shots of her journey back to the land, scored to a breathy, pretty cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” favor the convalescent majesty of the surroundings.

This is Wright’s way of pulling the rug out from under her character, and from us. Hours after she has arrived—and having requested a local to drive her truck away, to quell any temptation to leave—she discovers the discomforts of her life choice, as her animal neighbors keep her up at night. We learn that Edee is as unprepared for nature’s ravages as she is stubbornly independent, a combination that results in calloused hands, chapped lips and an ursine visitor that runs roughshod through the cabin.

Unable to hold a hunting rifle properly, let alone take the life of her next meal, Edee inevitably runs out of nonperishable food, in an experience that feels like a war of attrition against her body. As the harsh compositions bleed into each other, we are unaware how long Edee has been torturing herself. Winter has come, yet we’re essentially unmoored from time. Life can become temporally irrelevant when survival is an hourly condition.

This is all in just the first half of this lean 88-minute feature. For patient viewers, the bleakness abates. Written, with tenderness and novelistic gravitas, by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, and suffused by Wright with lyrical and visual poetry, “Land” is about more than the perils and challenges of self-sufficiency. It’s about the myth that quarantining oneself from the pressures and responsibilities and noises and cell towers of modern love can render one more able to cope, if not more enlightened. For Edee, the great, punishing outdoors is no solution to her depression and survivors’ guilt; rather, it’s the ultimate act of avoidance—a detour from the long road toward confrontation, acknowledgment and acceptance.

Life has other things in store for Edee. The film’s trailer gives too much of them away. It’s better to approach this experience knowing less, and to be surprised by the richness of its wisdom, and the deeply moving encounters that follow.

Land opens Thursday at Cinemark Palace 20 and IPIC Theaters in Boca Raton, IPIC Theaters in Delray Beach, AMC Pompano Beach 18, and other theaters.

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