Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

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DarkImbecile
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Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

#1 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:58 pm

After spending last week feeling like a cold, heartless bastard for not picking up what Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot was putting down emotionally, I was glad to have at least the remnants of my basic humanity reaffirmed when Debra Granik's excellent Leave No Trace left me a wreck for its last fifteen minutes.

Ben Foster is better than I've ever seen him as a damaged father struggling to find a way to exist in the world while still caring for and raising his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie, evoking a warmer Rooney Mara in what should be a career-launching role); the film gently and carefully makes the case for the situation in which these core characters exist, their love and commitment to each other, and the development of the inherent conflict between them without resorting to awards-reel melodrama or histrionics. That restraint - the movie is rated PG and yet never feels anything short of mature and clear-eyed - allows Granik to build to a quiet but still heart-rending climax that feels inevitable, earned, and remarkably powerful while maintaining a minimal amount of dialogue and emoting between the leads.
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To the film's significant credit, it never judges Thom or her father as they go through a heightened version of the inevitable separation all children must make from their parents, and that generosity to the protagonists - and nearly everyone they encounter along the way - lends the emotional payoff a sad yet pure feel without the aftertaste that could have come from a more openly manipulative storyteller.
As spare as the story fundamentally is, the imagery is so alluring and Granik's eye for detail is so strong that the narrative feels thick with shading and incident, never allowing any impatience to set in among the audience. Both literally and figuratively lush, the visuals of Trace take full advantage of the Pacific Northwest, with cinematographer Michael McDonough drawing sharp contrasts between the emerald tranquility of natural world and the harsh ugliness of the urban world, extremes which help make
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Thom's eager embrace of the quiet trailer community in which she and her father eventually find themselves
totally understandable and deeply appealing. One of the final shots is a lock to be among the best of the year, encapsulating the way the landscape is used as a tool for character development; I don't think I'll ever forget it.

This is one of the best of a very good year so far, and hopefully it sneaks its way into enough awards talk that Granik can leverage it to deliver another feature before another near-decade passes.

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Brian C
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Re: The Films of 2018

#2 Post by Brian C » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:16 am

DarkImbecile wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:58 pm
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To the film's significant credit, it never judges Thom or her father as they go through a heightened version of the inevitable separation all children must make from their parents, and that generosity to the protagonists - and nearly everyone they encounter along the way - lends the emotional payoff a sad yet pure feel without the aftertaste that could have come from a more openly manipulative storyteller.
I don't know if I agree with this, but I suppose it just depends on how you mean "judge". I think the movie very much takes Thom's side, and I think the movie is all about how she comes to realize that the choices her father made for her were not right, although of course she approaches this realization with understanding and compassion instead of demonstrative victimhood.

For example, there's the scene
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when her father puts her in very serious danger when they're caught in the freezing rain after running away from the house. It's hard to watch that scene and not condemn Foster's character for his aimless selfishness - he rather deliberately takes a huge risk for no discernible purpose. Shortly after that, he's injured in the woods, leaving Thom to herself, and she's lucky to find him. That sequence of events seemed like a tipping point for her, when she really starts to understand that she has to make a choice, because her father is a damaged man and being with him is simply getting progressively more dangerous without much chance of that trend reversing, given the circumstances.
To be sure, I don't think that the film is harsh in its judgment of him; like I say, Thom sees him with compassion, and the filmmakers clearly do as well. But I don't think the movie has much emotional heft if we don't understand that the choice she eventually makes is one that she pretty much has to make for her own well-being. We have to condemn him on some level, just like she has to.
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Because the choice she makes in the end isn't just "hey I'm happy here and like, self-actualizing and stuff" - it's also "I love you but I'm also very afraid of what's going to happen to me if I stick with you." That's the gut punch - it's a repudiation of his worldview and also a fundamental lack of trust.

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DarkImbecile
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Re: The Films of 2018

#3 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:31 am

Brian C wrote:
Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:16 am
I don't know if I agree with this, but I suppose it just depends on how you mean "judge". I think the movie very much takes Thom's side, and I think the movie is all about how she comes to realize that the choices her father made for her were not right, although of course she approaches this realization with understanding and compassion instead of demonstrative victimhood.

For example, there's the scene
SpoilerShow
when her father puts her in very serious danger when they're caught in the freezing rain after running away from the house. It's hard to watch that scene and not condemn Foster's character for his aimless selfishness - he rather deliberately takes a huge risk for no discernible purpose. Shortly after that, he's injured in the woods, leaving Thom to herself, and she's lucky to find him. That sequence of events seemed like a tipping point for her, when she really starts to understand that she has to make a choice, because her father is a damaged man and being with him is simply getting progressively more dangerous without much chance of that trend reversing, given the circumstances.
To be sure, I don't think that the film is harsh in its judgment of him; like I say, Thom sees him with compassion, and the filmmakers clearly do as well. But I don't think the movie has much emotional heft if we don't understand that the choice she eventually makes is one that she pretty much has to make for her own well-being. We have to condemn him on some level, just like she has to.
SpoilerShow
Because the choice she makes in the end isn't just "hey I'm happy here and like, self-actualizing and stuff" - it's also "I love you but I'm also very afraid of what's going to happen to me if I stick with you." That's the gut punch - it's a repudiation of his worldview and also a fundamental lack of trust.
SpoilerShow
Maybe this is just semantics, but I felt like the film goes out of its way to avoid villainizing Will, even while showing how inappropriate and potentially dangerous the lifestyle he needs to survive has become for Thom. Maybe because the film read to me as a very specific, unique, and extreme representation of the more universal way that typical parent-child relationships eventually evolve from dependence to independence, Thom's decision didn't feel like a repudiation or condemnation as much as a declaration of independence from her father. Up to that point, she may have needed his protection and guidance just as much as he wanted her in his life (maybe selfishly, maybe because he truly believed she was better off with him in the woods than in foster care elsewhere) even though he could no longer function in society. I don't think she'd say she has a fundamental lack of trust in her father, but that she no longer has to live a life determined by his needs, flaws, and decisions, and is capable of taking her own path.
Outside of this question, what did you think of the film overall?

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mfunk9786
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Re: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

#4 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:41 am

I was waiting to see if we'd experience a meaningful interaction between Thom's father and... any other adult at some point. It felt as though a helping hand from someone who understood his experiences and his state of mind might have truly been a lifeline, or the film could at least explain why it wouldn't be. Instead, he's given a dog by proxy and ultimately the film ends as it does. It's difficult for something to land with the intended emotional impact when you just find yourself screaming "Is nobody going to at least try to help this guy?!" in your head.

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Re: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

#5 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Aug 07, 2018 12:02 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:41 am
I was waiting to see if we'd experience a meaningful interaction between Thom's father and... any other adult at some point. It felt as though a helping hand from someone who understood his experiences and his state of mind might have truly been a lifeline, or the film could at least explain why it wouldn't be. Instead, he's given a dog by proxy and ultimately the film ends as it does. It's difficult for something to land with the intended emotional impact when you just find yourself screaming "Is nobody going to at least try to help this guy?!" in your head.
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I'm not sure what kind of help he should have been offered and wasn't, honestly. We see a handful of examples of people reaching out to WIll (the guy running the test when they're first arrested, the tree farmer, etc.), even if they're not the focal point of the core father-daughter narrative. The issue is with him rejecting (or, depending on how generously you want to read it, being fundamentally unable to accept) these attempts at help, not a lack of offers of support during whatever interactions he has with society: he goes to the VA and is provided medication, which he then sells; social services gives him a home as isolated as possible to accommodate his needs, which he abandons; the trailer park community welcomes him in to recover without alerting the authorities, and he does everything he can to leave as quickly as possible; and so on.

It seems clear from the New York Times article on veteran suicides (a real mid-2000s article I vividly remember reading at the time it was published, by the way) that Thom finds among their papers that he has identified this one way of keeping himself alive, and would almost certainly kill himself if he were given 'help' in the form being institutionalized or otherwise forced into a situation he couldn't tolerate.

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Brian C
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Re: The Films of 2018

#6 Post by Brian C » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:21 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Tue Aug 07, 2018 11:31 am
SpoilerShow
Maybe this is just semantics, but I felt like the film goes out of its way to avoid villainizing Will, even while showing how inappropriate and potentially dangerous the lifestyle he needs to survive has become for Thom. Maybe because the film read to me as a very specific, unique, and extreme representation of the more universal way that typical parent-child relationships eventually evolve from dependence to independence, Thom's decision didn't feel like a repudiation or condemnation as much as a declaration of independence from her father. Up to that point, she may have needed his protection and guidance just as much as he wanted her in his life (maybe selfishly, maybe because he truly believed she was better off with him in the woods than in foster care elsewhere) even though he could no longer function in society. I don't think she'd say she has a fundamental lack of trust in her father, but that she no longer has to live a life determined by his needs, flaws, and decisions, and is capable of taking her own path.
Outside of this question, what did you think of the film overall?
Yeah, I don't think we're a million miles apart on that question, more semantics than anything else.

As for how I felt about the film overall ... oh, I don't know. I don't have any specific criticisms, but I can't work up much enthusiasm for it, either. I admire that it doesn't reach for something that isn't there, but at the same time ... that just means it's not there. If that makes sense.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

#7 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:30 pm

Considering how often we have rip roaring disagreements, I'm yet again in lockstep with Brian C on this one. That's exactly how much I'd say I liked this.

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DarkImbecile
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Re: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

#8 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:45 pm

Obviously one of you should take this as a sign that something is horribly wrong and come over to my side on this one ASAP

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Brian C
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Re: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

#9 Post by Brian C » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:53 pm

Nah, I feel like most of our disagreements are over politics, and even then, specifically over political strategy. On movies the Venn diagrams overlap enough that it doesn’t feel all that weird.

Plus I just like roaring some rips sometimes.

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