Darling of the critics, shunned by the film goer. I stand with the unwashed masses on this one. You know, when a director has the dialogue intentionally obscure, I’m thinking Popeye. And I’m not one of those film-goers who needs it all tied up in a neat package. Mostly, I revel in the open ended conclusion. But when a film ends like this one, it seems to me that someone said: “let’s just stop it right here”. Ok…..that’s as good a place as any, I guess.
It’s Oregon circa 1845. For several minutes into the film, there is no dialogue whatsoever. Only the sound of a river, a Conestoga caravan with its squeaky wheels, the chirp of a caged canary. Night falls. Morning dawns. Only with the dawn do we hear people speaking. The first thing being the sound of a boy reading from the bible. The party breaks camp and continues on their journey.
There are rumblings of discontent. The guide who they’ve hired is losing their confidence. The journey is taking longer than expected. The cut-off that Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) has led them into is a wasteland with no water. Supplies are becoming scarce. They begin to see lone Indians. Their anxiety and suspicions increase. One day they make a decision to light out after one. They capture him and bring him back to camp. Hoping that since he would know the territory, he can lead them to water. Of course, they cannot communicate with him which makes them believe he is uncooperative.
The journey continues. Another day. They follow the Indian hoping he will lead them to water. He walks off ahead of them. Fade to black.
There is some build up of tension as there are those (Meek for instance) who is all for killing the Indian as he’s doing them no good. Then there are others like Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) who treat the Indian with some humanity. Williams and Greenwood make the film passable. The rest of the cast is adequate, but there is not much opportunity to show their abilities at any rate. This is a curiosity at best. Just not sure why it was made.