Wendy Carroll drifts along a rail thin steel umbilical, barely connected to family and friends, her canine companion Lucy’s unconditional love keeping her from an emotional breakdown. Wendy’s microcosm is representative of those living a fringe existence, her small tragedies ubiquitously expressive concerning the tiniest of lives of our unjust human condition.
Director Kelly Reichardt utilizes a cinéma vérité approach to reach an ultimately unsatisfying truth (but not unrealistic), bringing her subjects close to the camera while filming on location, forgoing static set-designs and montage which allows the audience direct contact with Wendy. We often "fall through the page" when reading; in Reichardt’s cinema we tumble through the looking glass and into this celluloid world that not only mimics our own…but also becomes it. The minimalistic plot purposely breaks with convention and shows us life with unexpected patterns: Wendy encounters a friendly security guard and gruff mechanic, and finds compassion at the local dog pound. She also meets others like herself who ride the rails, and sees them as human beings to be kept at a distance because she’s content in her isolation, living moment to moment. Reichardt’s observations are non-judgmental. Though Wendy is angry with the local clerk for turning her in, she begins to understand the necessity of which he spoke.
There is no Deus Ex Machina during her lonely search for Lucy in this strange town. She is lost and afraid of the unknown, which leads her to a bittersweet decision. The clacking rhythm of the train to nowhere is a brittle-steel heartbeat: for love, she sets her companion free and vows to return when things are better. Someday.
Final Grade: (A)