Leave No Trace (2018)

Leave No Trace
Director: Debra Granik
Writer: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini
Based on: Peter Rock‘s novel My Abandonment
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster, Dana Millican, Jeff Kober, Isaiah Stone, Dale Dickey
Seen on: 4.8.2018

Content note: PTSD

Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) and her father Will (Ben Foster) live in the great forest of a state park. Their life isn’t exactly easy, but they are happy with the way things are, surviving mostly of the land. It’s just that it is actually isn’t legal to live in a state park. And Tom should probably be in school. So when they get spotted, their lives are quickly turned upside down.

Leave No Trace is a quiet, touching film that tells its actually devastating, realistic story with such a calm attitude that you’re able to breathe and work through the trauma along with the characters.

Film poster showing sunlight slanting through a redwood forest, with Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie very small in the corner walking through the forest.

Leave No Trace tells a fictional story, but apparently one that is not without its real precedent: there really are veterans like Will scraping out a living in the forests, as far away from “civilization” as they can get. In this particular story, we have Will whose only way to live with himself since his war experience is to remove himself from society. Only that he has to take his daughter with him.

The story is about PTSD a lot and Ben Foster gives a great performance, cutting to the heart of the matter, the pain, the struggle for control, the effort. But the real focus here is on Tom and despite her young age, Thomasin McKenzie can keep up with Foster. She is not only a good actress, she has a very peculiar presence on screen that worked beautifully for the character and the film.

Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in the film.

The focus on Tom means that the film approaches PTSD in a more roundabout way. Since it doesn’t confront it head-on, it’s much easier to take it in, although not less affective. Every once in a while, yet another moment will come along where you realize again that we are seeing an example here of a systematic destruction of the mental health of young people, mostly men, for the purposes of war. Those moments are breathtaking. Turning to Tom again after those moments, and her fight to not be drawn entirely into her father’s mental illness, doesn’t diminish the impact, but leaves wiggle rooom to not lose hope in the face of this injustice.

Ultimately, Leave No Trace speaks about surviving. It does so with a quiet strength that I really appreciated and that is suffused with a sense of warmth and love despite all hardship. Thus, surviving doesn’t mean growing hard, it means growing into your own self – including softness.

Thomasin McKenzie in the film.

Summarizing: Fantastic.

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