Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meek's Cutoff: Movie Review

A journey not about the destination but which prejudices to fight to stay alive.

As bleak as the 1845 Oregon landscape they are traversing, “Meek’s Cutoff” is about the arduous journey three wayward families are taking. Their trip is at first to get to a better life, but later it becomes just about finding water. Although the film is less about their voyage and more about the characters and their decisions.2010

Directed by: Kelly Reichardt

Screenplay by: Jon Raymond

Starring: Michelle Williams and Will Patton

They originally decided to follow an ignorant mountain man, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who could talk the talk but couldn’t actually walk them towards anywhere useful—like water so they wouldn’t die. It seemed to be mostly the husbands who made the decision, because after all they’re the important ones, no? The wives just had to cook, clean, fetch fire wood, and knit and sew their clothes. But as were the times they took the lesser role.

Emily (Michelle Williams), the wife of the older and more in-charge man Soloman (Will Patton), was very apprehensive about Meek’s leading abilities. But she gave in to fear when a Native Indian appeared on the horizon. From here, we take a very interesting look at racism. Not only hunger and thirst can threaten their judgement, but also trust, confidence and authority within their own group.

The feminist fight for equality is only on the surface for the beginning of the film, it takes a sort of back seat to the questions of racism and then becomes a useful tool to examine it from. More threatening than the ineptness of Meek or the physical presence of the Indian, is that these issues are still present in today’s society. And we don’t have to go far to find water. In fact, I had water in the form of ice cubes in my cup of iced tea in my hand as I sat in a sheltered cinema.

“Meek’s Cutoff” is a minimalist film where you are not meant to get comfortable. You have to sit there uncomfortably as the characters venture forth in the lonely terrain and not necessarily to anywhere specifically. It’s a western only in setting and it reminds me more of psychological dramas or Jim Jarmusch character studies.
Best of 2011