Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik is a quiet film that speaks volumes about so many things; mainly, family, love and the telltale signs of a broken system. The film was adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini and from the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock. The novel was based on a 2004 article in The Oregonian about a father and daughter who had lived in Forest Park for years. The title of the article was, "Out Of The Woods Police Rescue Father, Girl Who Say Forest Park Was Their Home For Four Years", but the question is, did they really need rescuing?
Granik’s lens is intimate but unobtrusive, from the opening scene, it lets the characters come to her, and the camera is in an ever state of alertness. Will, played by Ben Foster, is based on Frank, a Marine Corps veteran whose wife was institutionalized in New Hampshire, where his daughter, Ruth, was born. In the film adaptation, Ruth’s name is changed to Tom and is played by New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie. The pair lives on Will’s $400 per month disability check. According to The Oregonian article, Frank decided to hike deep into Forest Park rather than expose his daughter to being homeless on the streets where she would be exposed to alcohol, drugs, and potential dangers. Deep in the woods, the pair grew vegetables, and used a creek as a water source to keep clean and store perishables in a small pool at the water’s edge. They built a lean-to and would come to town every now and then for additional supplies and clothes from Goodwill. Will/Frank was a college graduate and taught his daughter to read and tended to her education through encyclopedias, as a result, at the time that the pair was discovered and she was assessed by the authorities, Tom/Ruth tested above her age grade.
Leave No Trace is a complicated film that comes across as deceptively simple, with a plot that, except for when they are discovered and hunted (or rescued) is pretty mild; even the conversations between the pair is filled with silences. But the actors are great, and their chemistry works, and together they fill the screen with questions about what systems of government and commerce have done to human beings’ mental and emotional wellbeing. “Walden: or Life in the Woods” by Henry David Thoreau would have been a very different philosophical exploration if Thoreau had been a homeless vet with a child, and suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and a broken family. Leave No Trace beautifully takes viewers on different but parallel journeys, those of the father and the daughter as one can’t veer off his path and the other one must. The film adaptation, which sticks pretty closely to real life events is deeply touching because it accepts societal conditions as they exists for thousands and thousands of people who have fallen through the cracks after serving their country or having fallen victim to circumstances beyond their control.
The phrase “Leave No Trace” also refers to the principle that provides guidance to interact with nature in a sustainable way. The guiding principle includes some basics like: Plan ahead and prepare, Travel and camp on durable surfaces, Dispose of waste properly, Leave what you find, Minimize campfire impacts, Respect wildlife, and, Be considerate of other visitors. For the father and daughter team in Leave No Trace, these principles were par for the course until the world came knocking and labeled them as homeless, because the world can’t imagine a home without walls and humans untethered from the daily grind of meaningless existence.
Opens Friday, July 13, 2018. Check Regal Tikahtnu Stadium 16 IMAX & RPX for showtimes