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Promised Land: An Analysis and Review of the Movie

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Haley is a certified professional nerd who writes reviews and analyses about movies.

A  promotional photo released for the Promised Land.

A promotional photo released for the Promised Land.

Arguments Made in "Promised Land"

The Promised Land was a movie released in 2012 about a gas company attempting to lease the land to begin developing a natural gas facility. Since fracking has financial benefits to a community as well as major dangers, many arguments are made throughout the movie over whether the town should allow the harvesting of natural gas.

There are many central and peripheral arguments used throughout the film. The main central argument included the fact that natural gas mining would bring wealth and development to the region, but the counterargument was that fracking destroys the environment.

There are also firm peripheral arguments throughout the movie, such as people need to know how to take care of things and employees utilizing personal relations to sway the town.

Types of Arguments

Before analyzing the arguments in the movie, it is necessary to define what these arguments are.

Types of persuasion can be defined into roughly two separate types.

  1. Central routes to an argument
  2. Peripheral routes to an argument

Central arguments are those that focus on obtaining persuasion through ideas, information, evidence, and reasoning.

While the peripheral argument route of persuasion occurs through:

  • appealing to the emotions, the sheer amount of arguments,
  • credibility or characteristic of individuals in question, and
  • other things unrelated to the direct logical argument but still attempts to encourage persuasion.

Fuck you money is the ultimate liberator.

— Steve Butler

Argument #1: Money as a Motivator

The first central argument that is brought up and seen the most throughout the movie, is the idea that if the locals allow the gas company to mine their land that money will be pumped into the town.

Like many other small rural communities in the United States, the town has very little money, and its economy is obviously failing, and it has been for quite some time. The main character Steve Burke and his co-worker (Sue Thomason played by Frances McDormand) are in charge of presenting this argument to the townspeople.

They repeat this promise of money to every single citizen they came in to contact with. To those that personal gain does not motivate, they would promise money to help the community through modern schools and new infrastructure for the area.

At one point in time, Steve is confronted by locals about his job, and he explains the concept of “fuck you money.” Explaining that the people that allowed them to drill on their land would have a vulgar amount of money that they could throw at any of their previous problems, and make these problems go away.

At the beginning of the movie, this seems to be the most successful argument. Even after the townspeople are faced with the facts about what can go wrong, this seems to be the motivator that keeps them coming back to the idea of voting for the natural gas mining.

It is not until they realize that they can lose their farm, and exactly how proud they are of the land that has been in their families for generations, does this argument begin to lose traction. The loss of the land is not just a loss of property, it's also a loss of heritage and a loss of community.

Sue sits with a local family to discuss allowing fracking.

Sue sits with a local family to discuss allowing fracking.

Argument #2: Bringing Development to the Community

They played along this argument about gaining money, when they talked about how much development the community would benefit from.

Sue Thomanson promises a local mother an up to date high school that will help the children become prepared for college. She plays on the emotions and logic of this mother while her son sits in the nearby room watching TV.

Sue reminds the mother that her son is not prepared for college, and he has “no chance” of ever attending one unless the local school system has a significant boost. Both the idea of growth and money are logical arguments, but when given to people who have never had real money and live paycheck to paycheck, this becomes tainted with emotion as well, since every parent wants to provide the best for their children.

This argument was extremely persuasive as well, even to those in town without children. This was also a fairly persuasive argument until the people began to take pride in their land, and remember the lessons of their children about taking care of what is theirs.

We have nothing left to sell and we can't afford to buy anything. You came here to help us. Offer us money... All we had to do to get it was be willing to scorch the earth under our feet.

— Frank Yates

Argument #3: Environmental

The other side of these arguments was the central route of persuasion from the “environmental force,” Dustin Noble. His argument is the fact that fracking does go wrong, and when it goes wrong it kills everything in the area.

These arguments are first stated by Mr. Yates at a town meeting, creating the need for a town vote over the issue. Soon after the town decides that it needs a vote, another stranger shows up in town, showing images of dead livestock and ruined farmland.

These images, as well as his personal statements about how his family lost their farm due to the water pollution from the mining of natural gas, serve as a powerful argument that automatically begins to change the minds of people who may have originally been on the fence about the project.

Once again this played to the people’s reasoning, after seeing Noble’s evidence they wondered what good was money when their land would die. They would have nothing to care for later, and nothing to give to their children. The money that was supposed to save their community would end up ruining it.

Not in the Town's Best Interest

Argument #4: Internal Struggle

There was a subtle peripheral persuasiveness that went through the movie. It dealt with Steve’s feelings and guilt, and not the central confrontation of trying to convince the town’s people to allow the natural gas mining.

This is an internal reminder of what his Grandfather had taught him growing up about taking care of things. The first time that this idea is brought up is when the local teacher, Alice, explains why she “teacher farmer’s kids to garden.” The children obviously do not need to be taught how to grow plants, but instead, she is teaching them how to care and take care of something. The reason why what she said made an impact on Steve is explained later, on the night of the final vote.

Steve explains that every summer his grandfather made him repaint a barn, whether the barn needed the new coat of paint or not. Later in his life, he realized that his Grandfather was just trying to teach him how to take care of something. I believe that at this moment, Steve realizes that the town opposition he has met up until now has just been the town’s people trying to take care of their community.

This was an extremely effective argument, especially after he felt betrayed by his company. The effectiveness is shown by the fact that he told the people the truth. He cared more about taking care of the people and the town than he did his job or promotion.

Matt Damon and John Krasinski in Promised Land.

Matt Damon and John Krasinski in Promised Land.

Peripheral Persuasion Techniques

Sue, Steve, and Justin Noble all took part in peripheral persuasion activities in the town. Since small towns tend to look suspiciously at strangers, and since their dealings in the town were no longer kept quiet, they all began to try to show that they cared about the town through participating in local events.

Sue was the first, although her reasons fell more towards the side of romance than business when she tried to impress her date at the “not-karaoke” open mic night. Noble quickly followed this up, by introducing himself at open mic night and telling his fake family story. He wisely decides to sing a Bruce Springsteen song after he was heckled during his speech. He is then seen throughout the rest of the movie, getting to know the local people, and effectively raising his local reputation.

This raised standing in the community helps to garner even more support, which in turn helped his actual cause even more. The more people that like him, the greater the backlash would be when they found out he lied to them. Steve was not as gifted at connecting with the people, but he did try through dressing like a local, sponsoring baseball teams, and attempting to throw a town fair. He did not have the luck with this type of persuasion and did not garner much respect from it.

Fear as a Weapon

Of the various types of persuasion techniques used during his movie, the most effective was inspiring fear to the townspeople. It worked best for Steve when he inspired fear about the town’s future, and for Noble when he inspired fear about the fracking.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Larry W Fish from Raleigh on May 24, 2018:

I saw this movie, Haley and as I was watching it the first thing that stuck in my mind was that the people of the town were being fed a line of lies. Let's face it the gas company had one thing in mind, profits for themselves. Wherever fracking has been done it has caused a lot of environmental problems.