On the surface Meek’s Cutoff is a story of survival. There are certainly a fair share of physical and psychological perils that test the strength of human nature throughout. But more than just a struggle for survival, Cutoff is the story of faith, specifically blind faith. A timely and pertinent topic in culture today, just as it was in 1845 when the story was set. The film begs the question: can things ever change if human psychology is always involved? While we attack the concepts of socialism or communism as a set of ideals instead of foundations gone bad because of specific human behavior, we should look at our own culture the same way. Perhaps things can’t really change at all. Perhaps that’s the point. For me, the picture’s slow, static realism makes you look closer at the details. The fact that the women are patient observers to their men’s hackneyed decision-making allows for discussion about the nature of feminism. I think this is over-stating it a bit. The most courageous thing about Meek’s Cutoff is how it reduces everybody, no matter what gender, to their most basic human levels.
Mostly though, this film is about control. Those who are in control are the one’s popular enough to sway the masses. This control is easily lost, dolled out, handed to another, given up unknowingly, or lost entirely. All with drastic consequences. By the film’s end we discover, as we should have known all along, that the real power is in the collective rather than the supposed leader. The final shot leaves one perplexed by who the supposed leader has suddenly become for this group of settlers.