Leave No Trace (2018)
June 30, 2018 4:08 PM - Subscribe

A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living an isolated existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.

Peter Bradshaw: They have to accept – or pretend to accept – the social services’ remedial plans for them before they can slip away once more. There is a great sequence in which they attend a church service, blandly complaisant, not making a fuss, not standing out, biding their time. Or rather it is Will who is biding his time; Tom isn’t so sure. Each time away from the wild brings Tom into contact with a society that she rather likes.

Richard Brody: In effect, the story of “Leave No Trace” is: white people keep giving a white man houses. It’s a story of privilege, of sorts—but of bitterly earned privilege that arises, in significant measure, from his status as a military veteran.
The drama of “Leave No Trace” is diffuse and vague, but its lack of specificity opens the door to the powerful abstraction of a central and decisive idea. Granik’s film suggests that, largely out of view, the country is buried in soul-wreckage that results directly from its two decades of bad wars. Without any overt expressions of ideology or political discussion, of resentments or hatreds, she shows the ravaged ground in which poisonous politics grow.

Peter Travers: It's risky calling a movie a work of art – the phrase can make audiences think they'll be taking medicine, swallowing something good for them when they'd rather be gorging on multiplex junk food. But there's no better term to describe the urgency and unbridled emotion of Leave No Trace. You don't just watch it as much as you absorb it until the film's ebb and flow become a part of you.
posted by catch as catch can (7 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't seen this yet, but I'm really interested because 1. It looks great and 2. Seattle is also grappling* with how to deal with a large and growing number of unhoused folks living in urban woods.

* And by "grappling" I mean "arguing with other people who have homes and passing the buck around various city agencies and nonprofits."
posted by lunasol at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2018

Very much enjoyed this film, although the constant intrusions of the modern bourgeois state on the characters' lives, which Will (the father) clearly and rightfully detests, are pretty distressing. The lovely hippie / outsider community that we meet at the end of the film is just about an anachronism these days.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:46 PM on July 11, 2018

I saw this last night at the TIFF cinema and it's easily one of the best films I've seen in years, just so moving without being at all sentimental or melodramatic. I found myself in tears throughout, out of love for the characters, and the goodness of the people they meet (notably, there are no villains; even the state is by and large an agent of kindness). A devastating film, but hopeful.
I'm amazed though how few Metafilter people appear to have seen it, whereas over-hyped schlock like Annihilation or Hereditary gets like a hundred posts debating its profundity.
posted by Flashman at 2:00 PM on July 14, 2018

I'm amazed though how few Metafilter people appear to have seen it, whereas over-hyped schlock like Annihilation or Hereditary gets like a hundred posts debating its profundity.

I wouldn’t call them schlock, but in any event, it’s much easier to comment on movies that are playing at every cinema in the country, rather than something like Leave No Trace, which I drove forty minutes to see yesterday at one of the only two Houston-area theaters that has it.

It’s going to be hard for anything to beat Leave No Trace as my favorite movie this year, just as nothing beat Winter’s Bone, which Granik also directed, in 2010. Then ending was devastating, but almost inevitable. Once Tom had a taste of human society, there was no keeping her from it. Once she really understands that “the same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me” the implications are inevitable.

That Will’s first assignment after being taken from the forest is too help prepare trees to be chopped down and sent to decorate the homes of other people seems to me to be a sort of torture. No wonder he couldn’t stick with it. They want him to trim everything off of a tree that makes it “imperfect.” But the imperfections have nothing to do with performing the essential functions of a tree. Misshappen firs, or firs with holes in their foliage can still shelter animals, provide shade, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. But they can’t conform to the expectations of city folk looking for a Christmas tree. Such a potent image. Will is a misshapen tree, and he couldn’t be trimmed enough to conform.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:50 PM on July 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's pretty devastating that Will's compulsion to be off on his own in the wild is so intense that in the end he even abandons his own young daughter to do it. If even his love for his daughter can't make him endure life in a society of other people very like him, nothing will.

The problem of homelessness is far more complex than mere lack of affordable housing, though certainly that's a huge part of it.
posted by orange swan at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2019

I thought it was really good in a lot of ways. He's clearly grappling with his own trauma and doesn't want to be helped in a more conventional way, which is fine on it's face. The impact on his daughter though, both her upbringing and the near-death collapse he has though are really important and understated, and I'm not sure if I would have welcomed a bit more probing into what are you doing to your kid. The scene where they off-handedly say oh you're more advanced than other kids your age on the school was a bit of a sop though that I'm not sure how I feel. Like it felt more of a justification of oh see it's totally ok (though that's not the tone exactly in the rest of the film) and thus felt a bit out of touch.
posted by Carillon at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2019

Leave No Trace is another movie where the characters and performances are the best part. The characters have interesting things to say and do. And I like that there are no real bad guys, just people trying to do their best for each other. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are superb in their roles. If there is one weakness for me, it is how the story meanders, especially in the middle. The movie never lost me, but I was checking the progress bar to see how much time was left for things to get resolved.
posted by Stuka at 8:21 PM on November 10, 2022

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