‘Burn Your Maps’ Review: The Mongolian Steppes as a Stage for Grief
When “Burn Your Maps” begins, Alise (Vera Farmiga) and Connor (Marton Csokas) are engaged in the painful process of rebuilding their lives after the death of their infant daughter. They’ve hunkered down in therapy, where they are stuck rehashing old resentments and lamenting lost libidos.
Their son, Wes (Jacob Tremblay), has his own way of coping with loss: He becomes obsessed with the Mongolian nomads. More than a simple appreciation, Wes believes he is Mongolian, even dressing in makeshift nomadic attire, complete with toilet-paper goats and his older sister’s Ugg boots. With a child’s enthusiasm, he dives into YouTube to learn the culture. To the detriment of the story’s more mature themes, the film indulges Wes’s fascination.
“Burn Your Maps” is not totally naïve. The strait-laced Connor reminds his wife (and the audience) that Wes’s fantasy is made up of pieces of another culture. But the writer-director Jordan Roberts moots Connor’s stern objections only to table them: Alise travels with Wes to Mongolia, where both mother and son seek fresh air away from a home that has become stuffy with the remnants of grief.
The appeal of this gentle film rests largely on its performances. In particular, Farmiga is an actor with a gift for playing opposing tones at once — she can be angry-tired, amused-sad. Here she brings forth the conflict of grief: Alise’s unshakable sadness is more bearable when she isn’t putting it on display. But for all of the film’s attention to the contradictory emotional aftermath of loss, its Mongolian escape valve feels strangely obligatory — not a reason to get away from mourning, but a gimmick around which a film about bereavement was built.
Burn Your Maps
Rated PG-13. Sexual references and language. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes.