We - those of us who are not native to this land - don't think about Native Americans, very much. We don't remember that this country was home to Native Americans before they were Native Americans. They were the people of the land, who made homes and families and tilled the soil and hunted and raised kids and did all the things other humans were doing, across the 'pond.' They were the people who were here long before the white man came and gave them a label, and put them on reservations.
The movie Wind River is about the death of one Native American girl on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Mostly. The plot line is mysterious, the setting evoking horror in different ways than a scary movie about "don't go in the basement" evokes horror. It's winter. Well, it's spring, they say, but this is Wyoming and winter keeps a tight grip on the land, well into March and perhaps April; so the movie leads us to believe. I did not check weather stats to see how true that is, but I can imagine it's a close approximation.
The cold did penetrate my bones, as I watched the opening scene where this young, quite beautiful girl, runs hell-bent over snow covered land, lost in some wilderness where we see the trees off in the distance and imagine she is trying to reach them, to find a safe place to hide, to keep the horror it's clear she is escaping from, away.
She is barefoot. She is terrified. She wears a heavy parka, but her hair is flying free, a dark backdrop to the white snow when we next see her, sprawled in the frigid snow with the life drained from her face. Her feet, they show us, are purple.
Wind River is a murder mystery. I give away no story-line in telling you that. But, it's not just this girl's murder - wrapped in the death of being lost in below freezing temperatures overnight, which we learn is what actually killed her; not a blow to the head, or a weapon, or poison, or some foul play perpetrated in a killer's basement; it's the murder of another girl, a beautiful Native American girl, also lost in the snow and found... too late.
As in any murder mystery, the director leads us down narrow alleyways of wondering, hinting at this and that, giving us scant clues until very near the end. The story is more important than the murder. The story is about the men, the fathers, of these girls. Men who are stalwart and strong and know how to live on land that exists half-frozen much of the year.
It's about the outsiders who come to the reservation and feel entitled because... well, you will decide why they feel entitled. I will not tell you why.
And, it's about a young, blonde FBI woman called in from an assignment in Vegas to do what FBI folk do - find the killer. Solve the murder. Bring someone to justice. Except, she is handicapped by all the things mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph. She is blonde. She is a young woman. She is dressed for spring, not winter, and she has no idea what she's in for as she moves forward to solve the murder of the one young woman. It's not her job or her part to figure out the murder of the first young woman, which happened years (one or two, I am not sure) before. In essence, she is the eye candy for the movie.
To the director's credit, Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Jane Banner, has a big role to play in solving the murder. Banner takes charge, when and where she can. But, as in most movies, she relies heavily on the men around her. And, I admit that I am being hard on the director here, but really... given her character's strength, intelligence (she knew she was in over her head and she asked, at once, for help from the father of the first girl who died, who just happens to be a tracker named Cory and able to get around the land better than she ever would - played by Jeremy Renner), and focus on bringing the justice the girl in scene one deserved, couldn't she have just once during the movie showed the men up, with how much she did understand and how quickly she assessed the truth of what was going on? Couldn't she have?
I don't know. I only know there is a sense of despair attached to the movie. As we finally sigh and accept that the killers - of both young women? perhaps - are brought to the justice of the reservation, we are informed that no records are kept of the missing Native American women in our country. No one, the statement on the screen wants us to know, cares.
Suddenly, the relief that the rape and horrid, cold, calculating murders of two young women are solved and will never happen again (in just that way, murders will continue to happen, rapes will continue to happen, we live in a violent society, but they will not happen in just that way, ever again), leaves us with a sadness that cannot be lifted. It's as if we are not privy to the truth. It's as if the movie was not just a movie. It's as if... we must now wonder if we are allowed to go out into the soft sunlight of our regular lives, knowing an undetermined number of women who live in America, disappear and...no one cares.
I came home and looked for a book. But there is no book. The movie is what it is and I recommend it.
You may not feel as I did, that women were once again portrayed as victims, for the most part; that even the strongest woman in the film was weak, and shown to be in need of rescuing by the men.
I would be interested in your thoughts, in the comments.