At first glance, Land seems like a movie about conquering nature. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Land is truly about conquering grief. Of course, nobody conquers grief. Not really. The most we can do is learn to live with it, which is precisely what our protagonist does. We’ve seen this sort of story told before in films like Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. While that was admittedly a better film, Land is a lovingly crafted drama carried by an effective leading lady and absorbing wildness shots.
Between One Night in Miami, Promising Young Woman, and Nomadland, 2020 was another landmark year for female directors. If Land is any indication, 2021 won’t be lacking in powerful female visionaries either. From her breakthrough performance in The Princess Bride to her career-best work on House of Cards, Robin Wright has established herself as a living acting legend. In addition to starring, Wright makes her feature directorial debut in Land. She carries a majority of the film, both through her lens and through her performance.
Wright plays Edee Mathis, a woman who moves to a secluded cabin in the Rockies following a personal tragedy. With no phone or internet, Edee purposely cuts herself off from the outside world. She knows next to nothing about wildness survival, but that’s kind of the idea. Early in the film, Edee questions why she’s here. A part of her wants to die, coming close to putting a shotgun barrel in her mouth. Although Edee still possesses the will to live, she’s barely hanging on by a thread. So, if a bear were to attack or hyperthermia took its toll, Edee would likely accept fate.
The opening act is sure to be an acquired taste. Against the beautiful mountain backdrops, Wright paints an atmospheric and harrowing portrait of isolation. We feel the emptiness in Edee’s in life, although this practically dialogue-free segment is inclined to test the patience of some viewers. Land springs to life, however, when Edee meets a local hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir). Miguel rescues Edee from freezing one night, but it’s the bond that develops between them that saves her. Likewise, Edee saves Miguel, who’s also coping with loss.
A more conventional film would’ve seen Edee and Miguel fall in love. While there might be a spark of romance between the two, it’s refreshingly understated. Land is more about friendship and self-love. Miguel not only reminds Edee how to let others in, but also helps her to deal with her inner demons. Edee compares Miguel to Yoda, but the film doesn’t turn him into an all-knowing sage. Bichir brings a raw humanity to the role, creating a character who’s wise yet flawed.
In many respects, Land is the ideal film to kick-off 2021. Edee spends much of the film in seclusion, going through the worst chapter of her life. In the end, Edee still has much to overcome and her world will never be the same. She’s ready for the healing to begin, however. With any luck, we’ll also be in a good place by this time 2022.