Land, directed by Robin Wright, starring Robin Wright and Demián Bishir
The film Land, actor Robin Wright’s directorial debut, offers a look at one woman’s response to shattering grief upon the loss of her husband and child. Edee (played by Wright) leaves the home and life she had created with her family for a solitary life in a cabin in the wilderness of Wyoming where she can grieve without the daily reminders of her life as it once was. Setting out for a cabin with a U-Haul trailer full of supplies and instruction books, Edee’s attempt to live off the land goes about as well as you might expect it would for someone used to city life — ineptly and (intentionally?) dangerously.
As someone who once ran off to the Wyoming wilderness shortly after being widowed — with a thirteen-day old infant to care for — I was curious to see whether this film bore any resemblance to my own experience. People who experience the death of someone in their immediate family are often advised not to make any major changes for a year; leaving one’s home in the city for wilderness undoubtedly qualifies as a major change. As in my own life, this film uses the rugged and breathtaking landscape of the mountain west (the movie was filmed in Alberta, Canada, not Wyoming) as a backdrop to the long and individual process of grief. Through slow pans of expansive mountain vistas through changing seasons, the viewer gets a sense of how the solitude and beauty of the land illuminate Edee’s grief more sharply than she might have experienced had she remained in the environment where her devastating loss occurred.
Existential questions frequently attach to the experience of grief, and Land offers a few moments where these questions are considered. Before relocating to Wyoming, the newly bereaved mother and wife asks her sister, “Why am I here?” Her sister misunderstands the question initially, jumping to the idea that maybe a change in location might help. Edee’s response clarifies her reason for asking her question, giving her sister a moment of panic before she answers as most people do, which is not to affirm the pain of grief, but to underscore the value of the survivor’s life. Running off to a harsh environment without the necessary skills or preparation might be interpreted as an answer to this existential anguish. In putting herself at risk in a way that seemingly is without care for whether she lives or dies, is Edee subconsciously (or consciously) responding to her existential question?
Land also raises interesting questions about the public and private nature of grief. In her anguish of being left behind, Edee notes the discomfort people feel in her presence as the sole survivor of her family, reflecting the double bind of their compassion for her loss and their desire to see her experiencing less pain. Edee’s awareness of the unwelcome reminder that her life presents to her friends and family — that one can lose what matters most in an instant — is hinted at as part of her motivation for leaving her home. Edee’s grief process is limited by the tension between wanting to grieve in her own time and yet feeling the need to comfort loving friends and family members who are themselves anguished by her pain. By leaving her home for Wyoming and moving to a cabin in the woods, Edee asserts control over her process of grieving. As a woman living alone in the wilderness, Edee is an object of curiosity, but not pity. Edee limits what she reveals to others as a way of managing how they respond to her, leaving her time and space to experience her grief without mediation by others.
Not long after Edee moves into her new home, a local hunter, Miguel (played by Demián Bichir), finds Edee nearly dead from the cold in her unheated cabin. He brings in a local nurse to treat Edee, who refuses to leave her cabin. Miguel stays, nursing Edee back to health after her life-threatening experience, as they warily and slowly develop a friendship. Once healed, Miguel teaches Edee how to live off the land until she is able to survive on her own with her newly acquired skills, promising to leave once she has mastered these skills.
At this point Land moves from offering philosophical questions about the process of grieving to becoming more formulaic. One aspect of this is the predictable identity characteristics — Edee is a middle-aged, middle class, suburban white woman; Miguel is a non-White man, presumably Native American, with deep wilderness knowledge and gaps in his knowledge of popular culture. I will not provide any spoilers about the movie’s ending in this review, but will observe that the path Land takes after Edee learns to live off the land results in narrowing the parameters of what could be a rich and lively philosophical post-movie discussion.