Film Response: Promised Land

The film Promised Land centers on the debate regarding fracking as salesman for a natural gas company, Steve Butler and partner Sue arrive in a small rural town, setting their sites on the area’s natural resources (Van Sant 2012). Antagonist Dustin Noble leads an environmental grassroots campaign, arriving in town around the same time with a story of a family farm destroyed from drilling and a mission to stop fracking (Van Sant 2012). In examining this story through a narrative analysis, we see that the storytelling aspects of depth and breadth, coherence, and subtly are all incorporated. These narrative elements work to develop relatable characters, show both sides fairly, and create a viewer connection with the town to enhance the film’s pro-environmental stance, ultimately suggesting that what is revealed as the heavy risk of destructive pollution paired with drilling may not be worth it.

Promised Land exhibits depth and breadth, important components of a successful narrative. There is strong character development in this movie, which enhances the sense of reality for viewers. The character Steve Butler is more than just a representative of the natural gas advocating side. His amiable personality is revealed scene after scene in his interactions with children of the town, his empathy for the financial troubles experienced by many rural families, and his spontaneous downing of liquor shots at the local bar in hopes of impressing the young local teacher (Van Sant 2012). Viewers are brought into families’ homes to understand their dynamics, troubles, and wavering confusion in trying to figure out what to make of Steve’s the natural gas endeavors and Dustin’s hopes of preventing it. The film displays depth and breadth for these reasons: because it does not present a black and white, good vs. evil situation, but rather recognizes the various levels of the issue and the opinion formation of stakeholders. This creates a very realistic dilemma for the audience: whether families should value the immense monetary relief that drilling could bring from their financial struggles, or listen to the smaller, but possibly more genuine voices warning that fracking could destroy their generations-old farms.

Coherence and subtlety also play a role in strengthening this narrative to make the story captivating and believable. In terms of coherence, the film is consistent in its location and characters, allowing viewers to feel a connection to the people and places that make up this small town, to further understand the importance of the implications of drilling. Aside from the issue at hand, storylines that include the classrooms of the elementary school, the sole small convenience store, and the karaoke stage at the local bar bring character and charm to the location (Van Sant 2012). The audience is made to care about the preservation of the lifestyle of this community, which subtly enhances the pro-environment, anti-drilling stance, as fracking stands a threat to individuals’ health, home farms, and jobs.

In conclusion, the narrative and its specific elements play an important role in subtly pushing the film’s anti-fracking point. In an unaggressive, inclusive, and highly personalized way, Promised Land suggests that drilling threatens the health and mere existence of small-town America.

Promised Land. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Focus Features, 2012.

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