Creative Film Critique: At Land by Maya Deren (1944)
Maya Deren's At Land is a proclamation of the restictiveness in society. She compares the personal freedom experienced in nature to the confines of fitting in with what's deemed acceptable by society. The film explores the desire to carry that sense of the free self from nature and maintain it in society—which can rarely be done.
In At Land, Maya gives herself permission to carry this free self along with her through different situations as she is in the safe world of film where she will not have to deal with any repercussions for acting out of the ordinary.
Maya uses the analogy of land versus the sea to explore her ideas and feelings toward society versus nature. Her body being washed by the waves at the beginning of the film suggests a sense of cleansing that the ocean and nature naturally provide to the self. The way she edits different experiences and reactions together gives an idea of the multiple selves within her that she has created to face different aspects of society. She merges different situations together in a dreamlike way to suggest the internal transformation that occurs to cope with her external surroundings.
The first time I saw At Land, I was immediately reminded of a few lines from a poem by Lord Byron. The lines are from his poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and are in Canto the Fourth. It captures the longing for nature:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar,
I love not Humanity the less, but Nature more.
As I watched At Land in silence, these words played in my ears. The line, "I love not Humanity the less, but Nature more" can almost be felt resonating through Maya's smile. It is not that she despises society, but rather that she can only attain personal freedom in nature.
This version of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is edited to include gender-neutral language.