The Review/Short Read/

Hump Day Movie: Meek's Cutoff

You need to watch Michelle Williams serving Oregon Trail-realness

by
May 18, 2016

From Thursday to Saturday, our very cool cinema will be showing a digital restoration of Kelly Reichhardt's River of Grass, which involves a crime spree in suburban South Florida. (The screenings will be preceeded by a a 35mm presentation of "Daydreaming," Radiohead's latest music video collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson.) Reichardt's work tends toward the minimalist – they interrogate different aspects of American life by inviting the audience to pass through them, viewing them from multiple angles. Her characters are always searching, whether it's for respite from the numbness of modern life, or for a literal way home along the dusty Oregon Trail.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/embed/AEmL9at6JT0

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to legitimately experience the latter, I recommend that you take in Reichhardt's phenomenal period drama Meek’s Cutoff. Following three families as they travel westward through the Cascade Mountains, Reichhardt's film looks unflinchingly at the reality of the lives of American settlers. There is no romance here, only the shocking vastness of the western landscape that threatens to consume the travelers. Led by Bruce Greenwood's Stephen Meek (who may or may not have any clue where he is leading the three families), the film focuses on the experiences of Emily Tethrow (Michelle Williams), Millie Gately (Zoe Kazan) and Glory White (Shirley Henderson) as they live through the realities of the Old West, unsure of the veracity of their guide's claims, and excluded from the decision-making by their husbands.

When the group happens upon and captures a Native American man, tensions rise and the threat of violence comes to the forefront. Can he help them make their way westward? Will they survive this voyage? How much of a society can remain intact as it traverses vast stretches of wilderness? Meek’s Cutoff is less a narrative film than an experiential one – it takes the viewer on the dusty journey, with the hope of a new home at the end of the road. This is a film as much about the three families who traverse the road as it is about the road itself. Strap yourself into the horse-drawn carriage and take a ride – it's a long and meandering one, but it's worth it.

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