Where Did the Land Go?

Facing bleak prospects — decades of crushing national debt and an increasingly intrusive government — many commentators lament the loss of our individualism. They see in the election of 2012 one last chance to make a stand for slowing down the encroachment of the state on aspects of life once considered the preserve of the individual. Intimately connected with this is that our particularly American sense of “place” is also threatened: Modern and urban, we have become separated from the land, which once nurtured us in our striving for perfection and for redemption as individuals. It is part of what we once viewed with pride as our exceptionalism.

Our collective ideal of the bond between land and the individual stretches from the Pilgrim Fathers to Aaron Copland. One modern interpreter of that vision stands out as he continues to weave a powerful body of work, placing himself at the center of the battle between tradition and modernity. Perhaps alone among contemporary American actors, Robert Duvall taps into this vein of our contemporary crisis. He labored a decade in television and theater during the 1960s before really breaking through, in the movie True Grit (1969) — which is fitting, given that Duvall’s greatest contributions have been in Westerns or films with a Western sensibility, including the epic Lonesome Dove, the incomparable Tender Mercies, and the unforgettable Great Santini, among other classics (M*A*S*H, Apocalypse Now, The Apostle, The Godfather).

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