Genre: Adventure/Drama. Western.
Outline: ‘Wasteland Rose’ is a meditation on the historical displacement of Native American culture in the American frontier. As with the featured image above, Native American’s have long been exploited and commodified. A secondary theme that runs through the film is a look at the persecution of women within victim-blame culture. The story is predominantly told through physical blocking, with the majority of dialogue reserved for the 3rd act. A lot of the action takes place with our protagonist, Rose, as a sole participant of the screen. ‘Wasteland Rose’ is an understated and atmospheric film in the same vein of pictures such as Jeremiah Johnson (1972), Black Swan (2010) and Wild (2014). There are small bursts of violence, often accented by a heightened metaphysical pathos. However, the majority of the film takes its time and marches to its own beat (much like the works of Gus Van Sant or Paul Thomas Anderson). The film is also partly inspired by the song ‘Hang me, Oh hang me’ by Dave Van Ronk.
Central Character: Rose is a Native American Mohawk woman in her early 30’s. She is quiet and resourceful, yet her cold exterior hides deep-seated pain. She has been forced into a life of survival long before the events of the film and has gained a reputation as someone to be feared. Rose is caught off-guard by the inciting incident and spends a lot of the film trying to get a grip on things. She is a fiercely driven woman with single-minded ambition. Rose is driven by anger and motivated by loss.
Tone: Here are a small collection of ‘mood’ images and music for the film. These are designed to help evoke the tone and atmosphere as you read the story overview.
Story: The film begins with Rose in captivity among a group of unsavoury men. The group is quickly ambushed by a quartet of vicious bandits who slay all except Rose. As she desperately tries to escape, Rose is confronted with a horrifying phantasm of a dark figure crawling through the prairie. Somehow aware that she is being tortured by visions, the bandits, unwilling to meddle with dark forces, handcuff Rose to the corpse of her dead captor and leave her unconscious and left for dead.
She awakes to find two coyotes feeding on the dead body, and she struggles to reach for a nearby knife discarded by the bandits. In a tense exchange, the coyotes turn their attention to Rose, and she manages to fight them off with the knife at the last minute. After mustering the energy and gall to cut off the cuffed hand of the corpse, Rose is finally free and able to make her way into the unknown.
The next morning, hungry and thirsty, she happens upon one of the coyotes from the previous night (killed from the knife injury). Desperate, Rose pushes herself to eat some of the coyote meat and skin its hide for shade. After some days wondering, Rose comes upon a mountain pass and makes her way up. Weak from malnourishment and dehydration, she slips and nearly cracks her head open on a rock. In her dazed state, she sees the figure of a small girl and envisions her being led away by a Mohawk chief. We are not yet aware of what this means, but it wounds Rose emotionally.
That evening, Rose happens upon some berries for food and manages to scavenge pinecones to build a fire. With a noticeable temperature drop and an increasing ground cover of snow, Rose uses the coyote pelt and ashes from the fire to fashion a place to keep warm through the night. During her sleep that evening, she dreams of a dark figure hovering over her; screaming in silence.
The next day, Rose reaches a flatland on the other side of the mountain where a herd of bison are grazing. She imagines herself walking among them and feeling the warmth and life of their bodies against hers. For the first time, we begin to see a gentle and hopeful side to Rose. Within the daydream, she hears the faint sound of rushing water and is quickly drawn to a nearby stream. While trying to moderate her drinking from the water, she notices a charred body nailed to a fallen tree downriver. There is a sign around its neck that reads; ‘traitor’. As Rose approaches the body, she is grabbed by a dark figure. As the shape pushes her to the floor, it begins to violently strangle her. Off-screen, Rose pulls out her knife and stabs the figure multiple times in the stomach. It falls to the side of her and screams in agony and Rose rushes to her feet. When she turns, the figure is no longer there. Shaken, Rose continues along the river.
Rose spends the next few days and nights walking along the river, gradually losing hope, and singing herself to sleep with a softly hummed lullaby. On what is seemingly her last night of sanity, she sees the distant orange glow of a fire. By the time Rose eventually gets to the camp early the next morning, it is empty; barring some horse droppings and the cool embers of the campfire. We move forward a few hours, where Rose is now swimming naked in a lake. Half bathing, half relaxing, this is another rare moment of peace for her. Rose is soon interrupted by the appearance of a young couple and their baby.
The woman, Adaline, is African American and her husband Arjun is East Indian. They invite Rose to eat with them, and they talk about their baby, Jacob. Adaline tells Rose that they intend to give Jacob a white-sounding surname in the hope that he won’t meet prejudice before people have met him. They express their hopes for his future, but the group seem quietly uncertain. They ask Rose how she got to be out in the prairie (an issue she skirts), and they talk to her about an unpleasant town they recently visited called Juniper. On the following day, Arjun hunts some rabbits and Adaline asks him to skin them near the lake, away from the baby. As Adaline hums to her baby, Rose (at first touched, but then uncomfortable with this intimate moment) offers to help Arjun. In their conversation, he seems certain that he knows Rose from somewhere, but she denies ever meeting him. She asks him some more about Juniper and its distance from where they are. Returning to Adaline, Rose offers to hold the baby, advising Adaline that Arjun wants her help. When Adaline goes to see her husband, to both of their confusion, it is clear that Rose had made the request up. At this moment, Rose emerges from the camp holding a knife towards the sleeping baby. As the young couple cowers in fear, Rose forces them into the lake, and she takes Arjun’s gun. She orders them to wait there, and she leaves the baby on the back of their wagon; stealing supplies and their horse in its place.
Riding through a thunderstorm, Rose seeks refuge in a cave where she is teased by the disembodied voice of a man and eventually breaks down into a fit of tearful anger. We are seeing Rose at her lowest moment.
As a heavy mist rises the following morning, Rose eventually hits upon the town boundary of Juniper. She does not head into the centre of town, but rather makes off to a remote farmhouse on the outskirts. From a distance, she watches a small girl called Lalita play in the dissipating fog with a Plott hound. Rose watches with a melancholy joy as the child is called in by a woman called Sally.
With a seemingly unspoken mission at an end, Rose makes her way out of Juniper but passes a young farm boy en-route. The boy seems to recognise her, and he rides off into town at speed. Panicked, Rose bolts off and her horse collapses in the fog. Rose makes for a nearby bungalow. She forcibly enters and comes face-to-face with an elderly Native American woman called Yanaba. As Rose tries to get her bearings, she talks to Yanaba but is under the impression that she only speaks Pawnee and not English. After a short while, Yanaba enters into a dialogue with Rose; revealing that she can speak perfect English.
As the two share a brief exchange, Sheriff Silas Underwood approaches the home and askes to come in. At gunpoint, Rose invites him to take a seat. He warns her than a mob is on the way, and that it will be safest to leave with him. We learn that Rose’s ‘husband’ was an abusive man. He was also someone of minor wealth, who served as someone of merit in Juniper. There is a hint that he possibly held Rose against her will, and that she suffered at his hand for many years. Eventually, Rose killed her husband and left her child with a friend in the dead of night for safety, as she rode off into exile. During her time away, Rose fell into favour with various gangs to survive; and became something of a villain by proxy. Rose refuses to hear Silas out and forces him to leave the home.
Once Silas has left, Yanaba begins to tell Rose a fable about a hunter who was turned into a bear. The story provides an allegory for becoming the things people hate to see off their oppression. It is a message to Rose that because she has been treated like a villain for so long, she now believes herself to be one, and acts accordingly. Yanaba advises Rose to leave. She tells her to live a better life and that she will be with her daughter once again. At this moment, the mob arrive, and they shoot and kill Yanaba while she is trying to help Rose. The house is pelted with gunfire and Silas arrives back at the location to calm the mob down. Rose makes a break for it, out of the back window, and in a moment reminiscent of her attempt to escape at the beginning of the film, she is shot at and eventually caught. Silas steps in at the last to protect Rose from the mob and arrests her instead.
With Rose in a cell at the sheriff’s office, Silas tries to make small talk. He tries to apologise for not helping Rose when her husband was alive. He tries to justify his failures and then gets angry that Rose refuses to respond. He tries to tell her about her daughter and assures her that she is being well cared for by Sally. He waxes lyrical about Lalita and tells Rose what an intelligent young woman she is. There is an ever-growing sense that Rose is headed for the hangman’s noose. There is a knock at the door and Sally enters with Lalita. Rose is overtaken with joy and sadness. Sally introduces Rose as her “friend”, and Lalita (being precocious) enters into a friendly dialogue with Rose. Rose begs Sally to never let Lalita forget who she is and where she came from. She encourages Lalita to find the “Flint Place” (a reference to the Mohawk homeland), and Lalita unknowingly accepts the request. We learn that Rose is not her actual name as that she was once called Tala. But when Lalita realises she does know Rose/Tala’s name, she offers to give her the same name as herself. With a new name of Lalita, our protagonist must finally say goodbye to her daughter, her fight for survival and her life. The town of Juniper has finally claimed everything she has to offer.
The film closes on the young child Lalita and Sally walking out of the sheriff’s office and into the hustle and bustle of the town. At once an image of hope (the lineage of Rose/Tala lives on), there is still an ambiguous melancholy in the air as a young Mohawk girl, dressed as a Caucasian child, disappears into a sea of white men; her future, power and heritage uncertain.
Budget: ‘Wasteland Rose’ is a low-to-mid budget production.
Script Sample: click the download button to read a 10-page writing sample from ‘Wasteland Rose’.