It's been said that a good movie is either about extraordinary people in normal circumstances, or about normal people in extraordinary circumstances. Campbell Scott's Off the Map is an extraordinary film about normal people in normal circumstances, one I was pleasantly surprised by and thoroughly enjoyed when I saw it this weekend on the big screen.
The story shows us the lives of Arlene and George as they raise their 11 year old daughter, Bo, on less than $5,000 a year in the remote hills of New Mexico. That the film is carried so far by the talent of its cast is reinforced by the almost exclusive use of one location for its setting, the family's homestead and the surrounding landscape. Though that landscape is far from a backdrop - at times the land itself, the rock faces, the striking light and heat become characters with very real parts to play.
Despite its remote and rustic setting, the choices and reflections of the characters - on their own and as they encounter each other - very much deal with questions most of us face in "modern" life: what does it take to be happy? Is it possible be renewed and cleansed by our experiences alone, or do we need some special catalyst or outside influence to bring us through? How does our relationship to our surroundings change our sense of self, and our relationships to the other people in our lives?
Even though the characters are at times shown contrasted against the encroaching civilization around them, we never get the sense that they are escaping, rejecting, or running away from anything so tangible. Their struggles come from within, and the simple honesty of how those adventures are portrayed, combined with the visual appeal of the New Mexico landscape, created a powerful movie-watching experience.