Letters From the Big Man (2011) IMDB description: “Sarah Smith, an artist and government hydrologist, sets out on a post-fire stream survey in a remote part of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness of southwestern Oregon.
In the course of her journey through this ancient and ecologically diverse land, she unwittingly finds herself interacting with a sasquatch man, and a mutual curiosity ensues. As their friendship deepens, Sarah must take bold steps to protect his privacy, as well as her own.”
Why I took it off the list: Since witnessing the awesomely talented (and seriously underrated) Lily Rabe pull off her starring turn in Miss Stevens (2016), I’d been meaning to watch the film that gave her her first leading role back in 2011, Letters from the Big Man.
Unfortunately, the film proved to be somewhat elusive, and I forgot about it until recently. Luckily, I managed to find it for rent on Vimeo, and so finally decided to check it off my list!
Review of Letters From the Big Man (2011)
As the late, great Roger Ebert noted in his review, Letters from the Big Man is a bigfoot film unlike any other. It ultimately plays more as a romantic meditation on the delicate balance between man and nature than what you would expect from this subject.
It’s sometimes a slow-going film, filled with amazing wildlife photography and beautiful shots of the Oregon wilderness. The soothing vibe is helped by a lovely score of traditional music, full of fiddles and flutes.
Rabe’s Sarah is introduced as someone trying to flee from intimacy after a failed relationship by literally getting lost in the woods: she even covers up a photo of her and her ex with a landscape watercolor before she heads out.
Once out in the wilds, Sarah – who is also an aspiring artist – starts sketching the thick woods, adding big, mysterious eyes peeping out from within. It’s almost as though the sensitive, empathetic Sarah is willing an encounter with a strange beast to happen, and, indeed, it doesn’t take long for her to feel she’s being watched.
We get our first glimpse of the sasquatch just 10 minutes into the film, in the dark as Sarah sleeps, with the editing suggesting it might just be a dream. This ambiguity begins to fade as the film goes on and Sarah becomes convinced of the sasquatch’s existence and casually accepts it – although the shy creature keeps its distance.
This languid dynamic is interrupted when Sarah encounters a hiker – who later turns out to be an activist on the opposing side of her government program – and the film switches to focus on the sweet, nerdy, budding romance between the two environmentalists.
This is a welcome development because Rabe and co-star Jason Butler Harner have great chemistry. It also sets up a weird sort-of romantic triangle between the couple and the creature that leads to some interesting conflict. Especially since Sarah’s new beau seems more interested in exposing the creature while her instinct is to let it be.
The Luminous Rabe Carries the Film
The dynamic between Rabe and the sasquatch, who is presented as possibly having extrasensory and telepathic powers, is pretty fascinating and comes across as something of an impossible romance that can never be. At one point, she even calls “I wish I had a man like you” into the woods.
The plot is admittedly light, and a suggestion of a government conspiracy to trap the animal and harness its mysterious powers doesn’t really go anywhere. The film does raise some interesting metaphysical questions about the existence of this creature, but at the end of the day, it’s more concerned with conjuring a certain mood and exploring the character of its main protagonist.
In this respect, it’s a total success. Rabe gives an engaging performance as Sarah and convinces as a capable outdoorswoman, dedicated scientist, and steely but gentle soul. As proven by her brief turn in Golden Exits (2017) and some of the seasons of American Horror Story where she was underserved, the actress can spin gold out of even the slightest material.
She’s captivating to watch even when she’s just collecting water samples, chopping wood, setting up a hammock, or talking to a squirrel. Hopefully, many more leading roles where she can fully show off her enchanting charisma are on the way.
Total score: 7/10
Letters From the Big Man (2011): Worth Watching?
Yes. Letters From the Big Man is a strange beast of a film (about a strange beast!) that won’t be for everyone due to its languid pace and lack of action. But it’s a beautiful, soothing, and weirdly romantic film with a fascinating performance from Lily Rabe.
Letters From the Big Man (2011)
Written and Directed by Christopher Munch