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Hands That Bind is a slow-burning Canadian drama directed by Kyle Armstrong and released in 2021. The film takes place in Alberta, Canada during the 1980s and involves a ranch hand named Andy Hollis (Paul Sparks), who is about to be let go from his position. Andy lives on the prairie with his family in an extra guesthouse. The boss’ prodigal son, Dirk Longridge (Landon Liboiron), returns home with his wife and child after losing his job at the oil fields. Throughout the film, it becomes evident that Dirk is incredibly lazy and knows nothing about farm work despite being the son of a farmer. He is infamous for missing work and is often the talk of the town with his drunk antics.
The lack of work puts a strain on Andy and his wife Susan (Susan Kent) because the couple have two children to care for. Susan is a stay-at-home mother, and the couple faces marital tension when she brings up returning to work after a decade. Andy believes that her job is to be home with the children. He worked on the land in hopes that he would inherit the property, but when Dirk comes into the picture, all of the dreams that Andy had are crushed. Dirk has also come home to claim his birthright, and that puts a dent in Andy’s plans for the future.
While Andy tries to cope with this new change, he and his fellow farmhands notice strange phenomena occurring in the fields. They find two cows that are mutilated with no explanation. One is taken to the veterinarian, and there is no explanation as to how the cows were carefully slain. Certain parts of the cow were removed, and it baffles the farm workers. Andy also experiences seeing strange, floating orbs in the sky that transition from orange to yellow. The electricity in the guest house randomly malfunctions without reason.
This film is about the struggles of a humble man who would do anything for his family at a dangerous cost. I believe we can all relate to Andy in the sense that we would make the ultimate sacrifice for the people we love. Desperation drives people to make decisions that may defy all logic and morality. Some of us may even understand the slow-burning feeling of grasping at straws when all hope is lost and feeling trapped in circumstances that are outside of our control.
If there is one lesson I took away from the film, it is that what matters is the life what we choose to give ourselves and those around us. There is also the beauty within the struggle of finding ourselves when we are lost, even in a place such as a dreary prairie. But it can certainly be difficult to find one’s will to fight amid adversity and difficult decisions. It may also be hard to find the beauty and grace in our everyday struggles.
The slow pacing of the film captures the tranquility of the farmland and made me feel like I was back in the San Joaquin Valley. I appreciate the aesthetics of this movie because it reminded me of the long, scenic drives through the Grapevine in Central California, an unincorporated area that got its name from the grape fields everywhere. I would travel up the Grapevine to go to Merced, since I attended school there. There would often be cows dotting the golden fields, and seeing them always made the stressful drives more relaxing.
Aesthetics aside, I am still trying to process the film and understand the overall vision Armstrong had for it. I did find parts of Armstrong’s project confusing, since Andy often experienced graphic fever dreams or visions that were shown without any context. A few other scenes that were not visions seem rather misplaced and random. One example is a handful of scenes of a random car speeding off on the road in the background, which seemed unrelated to the plot. Many scenarios within Hands That Bind seemed to be lost in translation and made me wonder what Armstrong was trying to convey.