Land, by Albert W. Vogt III

Going into Land, I thought I had it figured out. The previews led me to believe I knew what to expect. This often happens for me. Supposedly, when studios release previews for a film they are trying not to give away key elements of the plot. This worked best in the age before the internet when closely guarded cinematic secrets were not leaked to the public on the interwebs, or any webs for that matter. On the same token, was there any social media chatter for Land? Was there anyone out there planning their weekends around seeing this tale of a broken-hearted women choosing to live as a hermit in Wyoming? I would say the middle of nowhere, but I already said Wyoming so that would have been redundant. Anyway, that was the movie I saw this weekend and I am glad I did.

We do not get straight into Edee Mathis (Robin Wright) living alone in the Rocky Mountain wilderness straight away in Land, or even her reasons for doing so. We only know that she is sad and seeking counseling. However, she is only there because others like her sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), believe she needs that kind of help. Edee tells the mental health professional that she is tired of people because they only want her to be better. More on that idea later. Instead, she leaves everything behind, buys some . . . er, land on the side of a mountain in Wyoming, tosses her cell phone in the garbage, and sets about leading a solitary existence. She soon finds that she is not as prepared as she thinks she is for such a life. The small cabin already on the property is in need of serious repair, her garden planted for fresh vegetables fails, and then a bear gets into her living space while she is in the outhouse and eats most of her supplies. All this takes place before she had made it through her first winter. After trying to retrieve some firewood in the middle of a howling blizzard, she collapses just inside her front door. A few days later she is found by a hunter passing by named Miguel (Demián Bichir), who brings a nurse from the nearby Shoshone Indian Reservation, Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), to restore Edee’s health. Alawa feels Edee should go to the hospital, but Edee is adamant about staying as far from civilization as possible. Alawa agrees to this on the condition that Miguel stays to look after Edee, which he agrees to do. As Edee slowly regains her strength, Miguel begins to teach her more about living off the land, including better hunting and fishing practices. Despite her desire for solitude, a friendship develops between the two even though she makes it clear that once her training is complete (she refers to him as Yoda), she would be on her own. Under his guidance, she begins to thrive in her forested abode. One day, Miguel says that he needs to go away for some time, which seemed to be understood would eventually happen. Yet the longer the absence grew, the more Edee begins to wonder about him. Thus one day she sets off on foot for civilization, heading for the hospital in the nearby town and thinking that is where she could find Alawa. When she finds her, Alawa takes Edee to a house close by where Miguel lays dying of cancer. Seeing her friend dying and getting a chance to say goodbye reminds her of the loved ones she left behind, namely her sister. The film ends with a tearful phone conversation after two years of being apart.

There is a lot to unpack in Land. As I mentioned at the outset, I thought I knew what it was going to be, and that was a film about a hermit. While it turned out to be much more, I want to linger on that subject a little more because there are some great parallels in the film. The Catholic Church has a long history of people separating themselves from the world to be alone with God. Though not stated in so many words, that is pretty much what Edee does. If you are like me and look at nature in wonder because it is God’s creation, then it was basically her and God and no one else. Sure, Miguel came around, but the majority of the time Edee had no one else. Why do people choose to live in this manner? For early Christians, and up to the present day, it is about having a mystical experience with God. I have to confess to being attracted to such a life, particularly at moments in my life when experiencing loss. It is eventually revealed that the reason she left her home behind was because her husband and young son had been murdered, and her son had dreamed of living in the woods one day. She is haunted by their passing, and literally sees visions of them as she begins to settle into her new existence. Now, Christian hermits were not choosing solitude because they felt a sense of loss, usually. If you were to join a hermetic order today and told them that you wanted to get away because of trauma you experienced, they would probably tell you that this was not the wisest choice. Ultimately, this speaks to a key thing Edee says early on about how everyone just wants her to be better. I can identify with this feeling, both personally and from a Faith perspective. When her psychiatrist suggest that she share with others the pain she is feeling, Edee responds by saying that she would never want to burden anyone. And when she is at her lowest point in Wyoming, she almost commits suicide. It is all understandable. However, God is always reaching out to us. For Edee, God intervenes in the form of Miguel, and he arrives because she was in his path. How much better of a world would we have if we all stopped to help those we find in need in our daily paths? By doing so, Miguel helps Edee to understand she is actually not alone, as none of us because, well, God. As Edee eventually opens up to Miguel, who can empathize with the loss of a family, so too does pouring out your grief to God bring healing. Hence, no one, even hermits, are truly alone.

As I said, I thought Land would be about the life of a hermit, but I forgot that the ultimate point of such a life is healing. That is the subject of this film, and it is more beautiful than the picturesque setting. It reminds us that it is okay to feel the sadness we feel when you have to deal with difficulties, but to not let it consume you. It is a triumph. It is rated PG-13, and there is some very brief nudity in it. When Edee is rescued by Miguel and Alawa, they must remove her clothes in order to get intravenous (IV) fluids in her. Also, as counterintuitive as it might seem, it is actually faster to warm up the body in front of a fire when stripped down. Thanks, Bear Grylls. Otherwise, it is a bittersweet tale of overcoming loss that I cannot recommend enough.

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