I was captivated by this movie! A young girl Tom, and her father Will, are living off the grid in the forests of Oregon. They have set up a camp but have no permanent home. The father not only teaches his daughter how to survive in the forest but also provides her with such a well rounded education in math and history and science and literature that when authorities finally catch up to them the thirteen year old girl scores way above her peers on standardized tests. I loved both of the main characters in the film Leave No Trace. I was intrigued by them. I felt sympathy and sorrow for them. The father and daughter’s love for one another was palpable and moving.
Will, the father in the story, suffers from PTSD as a result of his military service. As the film progresses and Tom and his daughter come into contact with more and more people in the world, Tom realizes that her father’s illness and indeed his very survival depends on living unconventionally. But much as she loves her father and knows he loves her can she stay with him or does she need to carve out a different future for herself?
Leave No Trace makes you ask hard questions about what is the best kind of parenting. Can people be good parents while struggling mightily with their own emotional and mental health? How can society facilitate keeping families together despite these difficulties? Sometimes, even though it is incredibly hard, do we need to separate ourselves from those we love in order to survive and flourish ourselves?
In watching the movie Leave No Trace I was reminded of the book Educated in which Tara Westover tells the story of being raised by a father who deals with mental illness. Her relationship with her father presents a stark contrast to the one presented in Leave No Trace. I was also reminded of the movie Manchester by the Sea in which a man suffering from the after effects of a horrific family event can not bring himself to serve as his nephew’s guardian despite his deep love for him.
Based on a true story the movie Leave No Trace is one of the finest films I’ve seen in the last year. Both Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie the main stars give stellar, honest and wonderfully realistic performances. How this movie did not garner a single Oscar nomination is beyond me.