Truth and Lies in the Promised Land – Movie Review

One Person’s Job is Another’s Tragedy

Promised Land IMDBPromised Land, the new movie from director Gus Van Sant, takes a long hard look at people’s decisions to sell land use rights away to energy companies for gas drilling. Small landowners and large farm owners each face a crisis when the gas man comes to town. The Pennsylvania landowners are not the only people to go through a crisis of conscience in the movie. The energy company employees also struggle with sorting out the truth and the lies behind their work. As one employee says, “it’s just a job”. Increasingly as the real news comes out day after day about chemical contamination after hydraulic fracturing – fracking – one person’s job morphs into another person’s tragedy.

Foothills of the CatskillsI grew up in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in New York, a rural area that is now at the center of a raging debate over fracking land rights for the Marcellus Shale gas. Fracking was put on hold here in New York, due to concerns over health impact of chemicals used and chemical waste produced. The story in the movie, Promised Land, as written by star actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski, captures parts of country life from my childhood with true colors. Closeness to the earth, respectful of honesty in conversation, I remember this well. The dialog throughout is natural and believable.The movie is also beautifully filmed to share the peace of nature.

But in real life, the rural area I knew was so much more complicated than in the movie. Many children left after high school for jobs in the cities, as I did, but this rural flight was not shown. And many families were new, from the city, not rooted closely to the land. Jobs and money were a major concern, naturally, as they are in the cities. Small landowners where I grew up also had to decide whether to stay, or sell to larger resorts or larger farms and leave. However the newer trends toward organic farms and wineries, the arts and crafts and small businesses I remember were absent from the movie version of country life. The view of the future for the town in the movie did not include these kinds of new businesses in its gloomy prediction of financial failures.

Who Knows Fracking Fact from Fiction?

In Promised Land, an older retired scientist who works as a science teacher, seems to be the only person who knows about the process and the financial value of the gas. I am hopeful that now, with instant access to real reports of the impact of fracking on land, water, animals as well as the economy – we will all be able to make the best decisions. I’ve collected science and medical reports related to fracking at and more come out nearly every day.

In the movie, energy company workers seem driven to shape popular views. They use all kinds of tactics, including handing out leaflets. I saw the movie on 3rd Ave downtown in New York City, an area where someone is always handing you something. But I was surprised that on exiting the movie theater, right in the theater hallway someone handed me a leaflet. She was a small, frail, middle aged woman who whispered as she handed a leaflet to each person who came out. It was a bit creepy. Life imitating art?

One thing I am now convinced is true – this movie Promised Land has really created a stir.

If you liked this post, please check out my books:

Brindle 24 – the last day in the life of a town after fracking

American Dream – overcoming depression through art

Death and the Dream – short stories

Vector a Modern Love Story – inspired by La Boheme and set in NYC

7 responses to “Truth and Lies in the Promised Land – Movie Review”

  1. Written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski , the film comes at an opportune time for a big-screen exploration of the issues surrounding the shale gas revolution, with cheap natural gas transforming the nation’s energy landscape and “fracking” now a household word.


  2. Good review. I often think of what would happen to all the oil workers if we stopped drilling, but then we could put all those people to work putting up and maintaining wind turbines and solar panels. We keep messing with Mother Nature, she’s gonna talk back eventually!


  3. I’m interested in hearing more about the pamphlets being handed out after the film. Do you know if they were pro fracking? Or against fracking? People in NY are so motivated to act on this issue right now considering Cuomo’s impending decision.

    I also really enjoyed hearing your reflections on country life. Hollywood has a tendency to romanticize the country life, and at the same time dumb it down. Interesting to read your reflections on the complexity of that life.


    • Thanks Lillian, it was a mystery to me. I felt so offended to be handed a leaflet when walking out of this particular film – that I didn’t take one of them. It was too much like the scenarios in the movie of intrusive marketing. I don’t know who the people were, and have never seen this kind of behavior before, onsite at a movie theater. Certainly the moments right after seeing Promised Land are important ones for reflection.


  4. Thanks for sharing your review and concerns. Having lived for several years during my formative years in a rural community, I appreciate your clarification of the dynamics of change you reflected upon. It reminds me of the old phrase, “You can never go back home.”
    Even as a teenager, the sights and sounds of commercial development encroaching on a near pristine landscape disturbed me. I’m with you on your assessment. Before we act, we must fully comprehend the impact of our actions.



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