Like many traditional-minded people of this era, I have become disenchanted with products of the modern movie industry which are mostly either filth, silliness, or formulaic pablum. To my fortunate surprise, I recently stumbled upon a gem of a movie from 2017 called Abundant Acreage Available. Written and directed by NC native Angus MacLachlan, the entire film takes place in the field and home of a small North Carolina tobacco farm. The uncluttered, serene setting is ideal for highlighting the film’s dialogue, thus putting intense focus on a simultaneously mundane and momentous episode impacting the lives of two families.
The opening scene features Tracy (portrayed by Amy Ryan, whose subtle yet stellar performance is the highlight of the film) digging a hole in the middle of a field. The viewer soon learns that the hole is meant to contain the ashes of her recently deceased father. When Tracy is joined in the field by her brother, Jesse (Terry Kinney), a tense but loving exchange between the siblings ensues as they argue over arrangements for their father’s remains and plans for the future of the family farm. This exchange – poignant, intimate, and riveting in its realism, creates in the viewer a compelling emotional investment in the characters.
The viewer is further enticed with curiosity when a group of unexpected campers appear on the homestead. Tracy approaches their tent with suspicion and a gun, but after some inspection, realizes the campers – three elderly brothers – mean no harm. Subsequent conversations between Tracy, Jesse, and the brothers reveal that there is a bond between the two families. Tracy and Jesse learn that their father acquired their beloved farm only because the campers’ mother sold it to him for a pittance in an act of vindictiveness against her husband.
Over the next few days, the viewer is privy to conversations between the two sets of siblings – conversations which are simultaneously warm and hostile, detached and personal. In understated, and sometimes unspoken ways, the viewer learns the stories of each character. One camper, dying of cancer, is seeking closure by returning in his last days to his family’s homestead. Another is suffering the loss of identity and dignity due to a stroke. The third brother, though healthy and whole, has quietly sacrificed his own hopes for happiness in service of his family. We learn that Jesse’s simple Christian faith gives him solace from bone-crushing pain and guilt he suffers knowing that his tragic life choices led to the death of his own child. Meanwhile, Tracy contemplates the reasons for, and the meaning of, her lonely life. Simple and unremarkable, yet devastating and powerful, as are the life stories of each of us.
The simplicity of this film allows it to be truly profound. Starkly, and without fanfare or contrivances, the most compelling possible stories – those of the human heart – are expressed.