Setting the Tone

I think because¬† I had already seen “Wind River” before we watched it in class I was able to appreciate the way director Taylor Sheridan was able to use the harsh Wyoming landscape to create the overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere of the film and comment on how that kind of environment affects people. Specifically I noticed this second time around an interesting moment when Cory talks to Natalie’s brother, Chip, in the police car. Chip says something about how it’s the land that destroyed him. And Cory reminds him that he could’ve left either by going into the military or going to school as though leaving the physical space around them is the only way to survive.

I’ve read in film reviews about the idea of setting becoming a character in a film (for example Woody Allen’s Manhattan is often described as a love letter to New York City) and I think this movie really does a similar thing with the snowy plains and mountains of Wyoming. The reservation and the surrounding area becomes a villain in and of itself, a constant threat that the characters have to be aware of. The audience can feel the land’s power and danger as the camera hangs high above the snow mobiles as they tear across the white mountains. Each person, truck, and snow mobile is reduced to tiny black dot crawling through the massive snow fields. It’s a rural, open, wide landscape and each person is dwarfed by the massive size of the nature around them. There’s no where to hide in this environment and everywhere you go there is danger.

The only time the bleak grey/white/black color scheme really lets up is when we are transported into the orangey glow of Matt’s trailer in the brief warm and happy moments with Natalie where they talk about where they will live once they finally move away from Wind River. And almost immediately the positive atmosphere is torn apart and the unrelenting danger of their attackers and the Wyoming winter bursts in and destroys their peace. It’s almost as if it’s the land that is the real adversary in the film, or better put, the land is the most dangerous adversary in the film. There are evil, evil, evil characters in the film but it is interesting that in the end,¬† it’s the environment that does the real killing. Cory’s daughter Emily, Natalie and the disgusting Pete (the rapist) are all killed in the end by the freezing, unrelenting environment. Maybe Sheridan is commenting on how unfair and ruthless the world is in general and uses the Wyoming reservation as a more extreme, exaggerated example. Or rather that there is never any balanced or fair justice in the world that rewards the good and punishes the bad. In Wind River, the cold does not discriminate –¬† it will kill you regardless.

What role do you think the environment played in this film? How are the characters shaped by their responses to their environment?