Leave No Trace: ****
One of the saddest things about our society is our unquenchable obsession with wanting more.
If everyone were offered one free item from Amazon.com, most people would be delighted and take Bezos up on it. Very few people would say: “No, thank you. I don’t want to waste the earth’s resources on another material possession that won’t make me any happier.”
Most people have also been seduced by the notion that if they can afford a bigger house, it makes sense to upgrade. Not only do I not share that notion, I believe the exact opposite.
I used to live in a house and I look back on that part of my life with embarrassment. I make more money now, but I am proud to live in a cheap, efficient one-bedroom apartment with my family.
If someone gave me a free mansion, I would stay in my little apartment and sell the mansion. The truth about life is that money brings freedom. The material things that money can buy rob you of that freedom.
People are always accumulating more stuff. But the most successful people are the ones who are content with the least.
When we meet Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), they have virtually nothing. And they are quite content.
Will is a widower grappling with PTSD, and he has chosen to raise Tom in isolation in the woods in a state park just outside Portland, Oregon.
What kind of teenager would be happy living in a tent in the woods? The kind that never experienced anything different and never watched commercials that pressured her to want more. Tom is satisfied with a hug on Christmas under a real tree because no one ever got her addicted to a pile of presents under a fake one.
Everything changes when the police arrest Will and put Tom into a State facility.
Even after Will and Tom are reunited, their relationship is never quite the same. Will is still committed to life in the wilderness but Tom has gotten a taste of socialization and comfort and doesn’t mind it so much.
Writer/director Debra Granik has no agenda and she asks more questions than she answers. Her questions are all thought-provoking, though.
Why is a public park outside the most liberal city in America just there for yuppies to visit but not for poor citizens to inhabit? Why are self-proclaimed environmentalists in big houses so quick to dismiss Americans with the smallest carbon footprint as crazy dangerous homeless people?
I am not a veteran and I don’t claim to know a thing about their perspective. But “Leave No Trace” was recommended to me by my film-loving veteran brother in law, so I’m guessing that Debra Granik does a solid job of empathizing with veterans’ issues. Ms. Granik doesn’t have a clear anti-war agenda. But she subtly asks us: what the heck are we doing to all these guys?
You won’t see a more intelligent drama this year than “Leave No Trace.” It is a unique but believable coming of age story. And it quietly questions every basic value in our consumerist society. It is time to reconsider whether the Americans who have the least are bums or whether they are the biggest winners of all.