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Meek’s Cutoff: American Landscape and The Gaze of Man

Michelle Williams in Meek's Cutoff

In Shifting Ground, Reinventing Landscape in Modern American Poetry, Bonnie Costello reminds us that “Landscape is the world under the gaze of man” (10). Meek’s Cutoff is a film preoccupied with landscape, the gaze of men, and most visibly, the gaze of women. The film caused me to return to Costello’s book not only because it is a favorite of mine, and not just because Meek’s Cutoff has been described as “a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens,” (the latter’s work is discussed at length in Shifting Ground).   I admire Meek’s Cutoff for the way it lines up with the work of the poets surveyed by Costello: like the poems she describes here, the film “reveals the entanglement of nature and culture, the interplay between our desires, our concepts, and our perceptions, and possibilities for renewal and vitality within that entanglement” (14). Like the modern poems Costello favors, the film “is not designed to establish epistemological or ethical truths, but neither is it indifferent to epistemological inquiry or immune from ethical motivation or scrutiny” (14).

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