"If I don't belong here, I don't belong anywhere."
There is something serene about nature. The rugged smell, the organic terrain, the often silent stillness; it can be therapeutic to exist in such a wide-open space. It can also be humbling, forcing one to forge ahead, absent of modern luxuries that simplify everyday existence.
Out in the harsh American wilderness, time can pass quickly; it does in Robin Wright's Land, a picturesque visual odyssey that showcases the undeniable effects time and nature can have on grief. The film follows Edee (Wright), a sad, depressed, and lost woman, deep into Wyoming's mountains, where she begins a life of complete solitude for reasons that are deliberately unknown but not entirely hard to piece together. As time passes by, made known by standard seasonal changes between fall leaves, hanging icicles, and similar natural events, we begin to witness a breakdown in Edee's outer shell.
At times she smiles, breaking the stern, emotionless stare we've witnessed since first meeting her, tracking up the mountainside with a packed U-Haul. She has disposed of her phone, retaining only the necessities, directly stating to the world that she is done with its inhabitants. Her move to a cabin, far away from civilization, personifies her feelings toward her future. Grappling with something larger than herself, she is indifferent to life, satisfied with whichever way her journey takes her, fully content with her fate.
But that is the easy part, physically removing oneself from the situation —in this case, society. But the emotional turmoil, grief, and heartache require strength and perseverance. She can't shortcut that, and you can read the frustration on her face. Apparitions of her husband and young son, two characters we know nothing about, plague her progress; however, their memory sits firmly in her mind, even amid the struggles that have greeted her on the mountainside.
Other things plaguing Edee's experience: hunting, fishing, protecting her limited rations from bears —her abilities for such an endeavor are few; her lack of expertise resonates soundly from the onset. But that isn't the point. The point of Land isn't to engulf the viewer into a coarse, rugged experience that fills your senses with the wild outdoors. This film means to capitalize on your emotions, bypassing the rough exterior searching for strong, independent, and free-spirited inner workings.
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski captures the plains' pure elegance, utilizing the elements to maneuver across time, allowing rain to transition to snow back to rain. The film bypasses the physical hardships, relying instead on the daily rituals that accompany anyone who chooses a life amid the unforgiving elements. Wright dials in on several stereotypical moments, an unattractive outhouse and a wealth of animal noises meet her on night one; but, in essence, this creative decision allows the focus to remain on her inner being.
But that inner focus makes a series of near-death experiences seem both forced and a bit dramatic. A run-in with a bear, exposure to the harsh elements, and the all too real threat of starvation compound to attest to a woman searching desperately for a reason to will herself to live.
When she lays helpless on the ground, out of food and, as a result, energy, you can't help but ponder her mental state. The arrival of Miguel (Demián Bichir) and Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), passing civilians who nurse Edee back to health, add a bit of life to the narratively stagnant story. Miguel returns on occasion, educating Edee on the ways of the wilderness, helping her develop the skills required to not only live but thrive in the way she desires.
Miguel's reason for participation is apparent from his initial introduction. Though the two share a few tender moments, sparking the possibility of a romance, their relationship remains platonic. His purpose is to guide and pull Edee away from the edge. He provides a sense of hope, reminding her of the life she still has to live.
Wright's feature directional debut establishes a story that more showcases the physical endurance and emotional exhaustion that comes with self-sufficiency than Edee's journey in particular. Visually stunning from start to finish, Wright does incredible things in front of the camera, bringing to life a woman in desperate need of self-discovery. But the hard-nosed struggles, immense in context, pass by with seeming ease. Land is short, a quick eighty-nine minutes. The audience deserves a bit more focus on Edee's transformation. Hell, Edee herself deserves it.
*This review originally appeared as part of our 2021 Sundance Film Festival coverage.