Movie Review: “Burn Your Maps”
Burn Your Maps
Alise (Vera Farmiga) and Connor (Marton Csokas) have recently suffered a tragic loss. It has put a strain on their marriage, as they both have very different ways of handling their grief. They are both trying to hold onto their marriage, but their pain will not be easy to overcome. Unfortunately, they soon realize that their son, Wes (Jacob Tremblay), has also been greatly affected by the tragedy.
In an old book, Wes has stumbled upon an even older picture that has had a profound impact on him. The picture he found was that of a Mongolian nomad. The picture has inspired him to learn more about the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle, and he has become obsessed with the idea that he is a Mongolian nomad. He has created his own clothes, created his own goats, and has made every effort to live as a Mongolian. While Connor wants his son to snap out of this phase, Alise has decided to take Wes on a trip to Mongolia.
The Pros & Cons
Jacob Tremblay (+6pts)
Vera Farmiga (+4pts)
The Plot & Mongolia (+6pts)
The Friend & The Guide (-4pts)
Pro: Jacob Tremblay (+6pts)
Jacob Tremblay is young, but he has already delivered some great performances in his short career. His most notable performances were in Room and Wonder, but the young actor already has a number of acting credits, and he has delivered strong performances in everything that I have seen him in. Burn Your Maps is another great example of this kid’s talent. Wes is a simple character on the surface, but is really much more complex.
Wes is obsessed with being a Mongolian nomad. He is excited about that idea, excited about the fantasy he has created for himself, and excited when he gets the opportunity to visit the country. His story is more tragic when you understand what it is that he finds so appealing about the nomadic lifestyle and why he is obsessed with this idea. The character seems happy on the surface, but he is in pain and he is struggling to process that. The character had a complex, compelling story, and Jacob Tremblay did a great job of bringing that complexity to the screen.
Con: Ismail (-3pts)
My issues with this character were not major, but I just did not think he fit into this story naturally. The character had some entertaining moments, but I did not understand why he was there. Ismail, played by Suraj Sharma, is an aspiring filmmaker who is fascinated by Wes’ story. He befriends Wes and he wants to film the boy’s journey.
On paper, that all seems fine. Wes has an interesting story and it would make sense to want to document that. The problem is that Wes is a child and Ismail is very much not a child. I just did not buy their friendship and did not buy Alise’s acceptance of it. The character also just did not seem relevant to the story. He could have been removed all together, and the plot would have only needed one or two minor adjustments. Again, my issues with this character did not greatly impact my enjoyment of the movie. Ismail was a somewhat unnecessary and minor character that seemed forced into this story, but he did have some entertaining and satisfying moments.
Pro: Vera Farmiga (+4pts)
Wes had a compelling story, in this movie, but so did his parents. Of the two, Alise definitely got more focus, and I was definitely interested in her character development. As I mentioned before, this family suffered a great tragedy. Alise is probably hurting the most after that tragedy, and she is struggling to get through that.
I do not want to say much more about her story, but Vera Farmiga did a fantastic job with this role. I bought that this character was broken, but she still very much loves her son Wes. The character is in tremendous pain, and I enjoyed watching Vera Farmiga bring that (along with her character’s story arc) to the screen. She was not the focal point of the movie, that was Wes, so Vera Farmiga was not the best part of this movie (in my opinion). Nonetheless, Alise was a compelling character and Vera Farmiga knocked the role out of the park.
Con: Connor (-2pts)
While I thought Connor had a compelling story, the way this story was executed felt a little unfair to the character. He was dealing with the same pain as his wife, but was dealing with it in a very different way. The filmmakers had an opportunity to show how significant grief can impact a marriage and a family. In a way, they definitely did that, but I thought they told this story in a way that sort of vilified the character in the beginning of the movie.
Toward the end of the film, this was not the case, and I still found the character’s story compelling regardless. If anything, the character was the more logical parent, he just had a moment of weakness in which he let his guard down (allowing his pain to get the better of him). As a result, the movie then focused on the idea of him being a “bad” guy, which seemed pretty unfair to the guy. It dis not last too long, but this minor vilification at the beginning of the movie felt unjustified and smelled like the filmmakers wanted to force more drama into this story.
Pro: The Plot & Mongolia (+6pts)
I always enjoy plots that focus on interesting characters, and Burn Your Maps had just that. While I thought Connor was unfairly vilified for a little bit, I still found the character to be compelling. Alise and Wes obviously had a more unique story and I enjoyed watching their journey in addition to watching them come face-to-face with their grief along the way. As interesting as these characters were, it was setting this story in Mongolia that made the movie feel so unique.
I have been fortunate enough to go to Mongolia twice, so when I found out about this movie, I was interested to see how the country would be depicted. It would have been nice to see the filmmakers show a bit of modern Mongolian culture in addition to the nomadic culture, but I understand that Wes was obsessed with Mongolian nomads, so the decision to focus on nomadic Mongolia made sense. I thought the filmmakers did a good job of showing the Mongolian countryside as I remember it. This was a decent character story that was set in some beautiful locations, which felt consistent with what I experienced during my time in Mongolia. It is a country with a lot of amazing views and a unique, fascinating culture, but it does not get much attention in Hollywood or television in the United States. I really enjoyed seeing the country get so much focus in this movie, and I enjoyed seeing that the filmmakers depicted the nomadic culture so accurately.
Con: The Friend & The Guide (-4pts)
When Alise and Wes arrived in Mongolia, they met two new characters. Unfortunately, I did not think either of these characters worked, but they did not work in different ways. Alise met a new friend, played by Virginia Madsen. This character was fine to an extent, but she just felt very random. She joined the story in a very random way, did not offer anything to the story, seemed to have nothing better to do than to follow Alise, and then left the story even more randomly than the way she entered it. As random as the character was, I did not have as much of an issue with her as I did with the guide.
Once they arrived in Mongolia, the guide was responsible for driving Alise and Wes across the countryside of Mongolia and taking them where they needed to go. The guide, named Batbayar (Ramon Rodriguez), should have served as a background character. I will not say what the filmmakers did with the character to avoid spoilers, but they forced him into a more significant role. This story line felt like an unnecessary distraction from the more compelling story (regarding Wes and his journey). It also felt like the filmmakers were trying to force more drama into the story. Did it work? I suppose, but the drama that it added felt lazy, uninteresting, and had no payoff.
Grade: B- (82pts)
Like I said before, I have been fortunate enough to go to Mongolia twice. It is a beautiful country and, while much of the population lives in a very modern city, the nomadic Mongolian culture is still prevalent throughout the countryside. This movie takes a look at nomadic Mongolian culture through the perspective of a young boy who wants to live the free life of a Mongolian nomad. The movie was about Wes and his desires, but was also about Wes’ parents and how they respond to their son’s new obsession (all while dealing with their own issues).
Unfortunately, most of the side characters were either random, irrelevant, or were evident of lazy filmmaking. While I think the side characters needed some work, they were just side characters, so this did not hurt the movie much. While it would have been nice to see the modern lifestyle in Mongolia, based on my experience I think the filmmakers did a great job of depicting the nomadic culture. This was an interesting story about a family in pain, and their journey to get through that pain. That, mixed with compelling characters, strong performances, and great scenery, made this a movie that I enjoyed, as well as one that was easy to get invested in.