The Land

It’s not hard to remember that life in America was tough ten years ago. The housing crash was felt globally, and I personally felt the pain of losing my job of over seventeen years. We also forget that the much-maligned middle America suffered as well. This is the subject of The Land from Stephen Wallace Pruitt and Mary Settle Pruitt.

John (Herman Johansen) and Mary Lou Martin (Kathleen Warfel) own a farm that’s on the brink of foreclosure. The prideful John hops in his combine and drives it to the front of the farm, leaving the keys for the bank to repossess. The farm was a gift from John to Mary, where they married and raised their son John, Jr. (Davis DeRock).

Mary convinces the stubborn John to talk with the bank and see if there’s anything they can do. When it rains, it pours. It’s not just John who’s having problems, it’s the entire community, and even the bank itself. Everyone’s behind on their mortgage payments, and the crops and economy are not faring any better.

With no sign of hope, the marriage of John and Mary Lou are put to the test. On the one hand, John’s entire self-image is on the farm. If he loses it, his whole life will have meant nothing and worse, the one thing he promised Mary Lou goes with it. Mary Lou, on the other hand, chooses to live in the now. The past is the past, and no one can control the future, all she has is the ability to make the most of today.

“…on the brink of foreclosure. The prideful John hops in his combine…leaving the keys for the bank to repossess.”

Seizing the opportunity, the fair is coming to town, and Mary requests that John take her to the fair, because that was their first date when they were eighteen, and then afterward make love to her like they were eighteen. The reluctant John fulfills that request…twice.

The outlook on saving the farm does not seem bright. John becomes reclusive, and the time spent thinking about their bleak future sends him down an emotional spiral. Mary Lou frantically tries to pull John out of his deep depression.

One thing I remembered from the recession ten years ago, was while I was looking for a new job and career, everyone else was talking politics. I felt those same feelings again watching The Land. While we lost everything, Washington was making promises that never came through and making decisions that seemed to make the problem worse. While the focus of the nation was on Congress, struggling families were left unheard.

Stephen and Mary Pruitt’s The Land is pretty thorough in its depiction of the farmer during that time. First, there is no bad guy. It’s not the story of an evil bank eating up family farms for profit, it was a tough time for everyone. It also explores the idea of defending one’s legacy over finding contentment with what you have here and now. The toughest part of the story is John’s as the subtle realizes he may not win this fight and turns to alcohol for temporary relief for his pain.

“…a touching drama about our own self-worth and is it really tied in our work or do we find value in other areas of life.”

Most importantly, the Pruitt’s address the high rate of suicides from farmers during that time. The overwhelming feeling of hopelessness cause farmers to kill themselves, leaving insurance money to their widows and kids. It’s also a coping with ultimate failure in life and the thinking that ending one’s life is best for those left behind. The Land is a touching drama about our own self-worth and is it really tied in our work or do we find value in other areas of life.

Herman Johansen and Kathleen Warfel bring authenticity to a loving couple married for a long time. They are playful and devoted to one another, and this devotion is tested as John gradually pulls away from Mary Lou out of pride and shame. Also, this may also seem like a throw-away comment, but farms are always beautiful and picturesque. The cinematography is exceptional.

The Land is not a perfect movie, though. While effectively addressing issues farmers faced not too long ago, it does cross the line of melodrama in many instances. In other words, emotions run just a little too high that it comes off as movie drama. Before I’m branded as being heartless, I’ll just say that emotions hover about ten feet off the ground and just needed to be pulled in just a little. This is especially true with the final act.

If I were to be honest, The Land rises to the level of Hallmark and Lifetime movie quality, where the themes of the story take precedence over trying to deliver a big studio masterpiece in story and performance. The importance of The Land is as an advocate for the farming communities invisible between the two coasts and tells their stories and shares their struggles.

The Land (2019) Directed by Stephen Wallace Pruitt. Written by Mary Settle Pruitt, Stephen Wallace Pruitt. Starring Herman Johansen, Kathleen Warfel, Davis DeRock. The Land screened at the 2019 Dances With Films.

7 out of 10 stars

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