07/03/17, Certain Women
A slice-of-life film about the lives of four women in a dead-end town. The camera stays on things longer than is usual, as if the character of Time is playing Best Supporting Actor. In the final scene, as a lonely protagonist is working in the stables, you wait to see the woman she loves come back to her. And you wait.
It's a meditation, this film, on how empty your life can be in different ways. One protagonist, played by Laura Dern, is a single lawyer having lunchtime sex but nothing more from a married man. She has a client who has been broken physically and mentally by an industrial accident, and though she wants nothing more than to finish the case, she is all this client has. No happy ending here for either of them. Meanwhile, the husband who's shagging the lawyer has a bored, unresponsive, slightly contemptuous teenage daughter and an enigmatic wife, played by Michelle Williams. Williams's character doesn't seem to suspect her husband's affair but feels unsupported. There is zero tenderness, face to face, everything is stiff or listless. Her own moment of insight, if you can call it that, sees her supervising the loading of rock from an old man's property. He has told her she can take the rocks, apparently the remains of an old school house; the old man lapses into thoughts about home improvements of his own that never happened, a porch that never got built and probably now never will be. Williams smiles and waves to him at the end. He turns his back and retreats into the gloom of his home.
It is all beautifully shot, the mountains and the faded grass and leaf-less trees. It all feels a bit barren, a bit sparse, you can see why the director wants this as background in a story about characters without much in their lives, without anything in particular. The Background as another Supporting Actor, or as a metaphor for all of them.
The most heart-breaking story is the one of the emotionally closed and quiet girl who works on a ranch tending to horses, played by Lily Gladstone. She accidentally wanders into a night class, legal issues relating to the classroom of no interest or relevance to her, and she takes a seat at the back. A flustered Kristen Stewart, a law student or recently graduated, has come from a four-hour drive to instruct teachers on law. There are moments of comedy with the pettiness of the teachers' questions. Stewart's character doesn't want to be there, and one day doesn't turn up, is replaced by another. The quiet, emotionally closed rancher is devastated and drives out to find her. Eventually she does.I'm describing this film and I'm aware I'm doing a poor job of selling it, of making it seem like something life-affirming or distracting or basically exciting. But the mood of this film is powerful, all-pervasive, and the characters from this gleaming winter wasteland will linger in your mind. There are different ways of depicting the story of the Wasteland; you can do it with chivalrous knights in shining armour. Or you can do it like this, a different gender, a more modern setting, but the Godless, silent desperation is captured here, and if tenderness is missing, the silent yearning for it from the characters is tangible throughout.