Hancock brings life, regret and determination to every shot.
“It’s never too late.” When the slogan from Edie’s poster is spoken on screen, it’s the cook at the main character’s favorite restaurant who says it, assuring her it’s never too late in the day to prepare food for her. You can see the turn instantly in the eyes of Edie, played by Hancock: Right then, you know she’s about to take these words and run with them.
Indeed, there’s no compromising in the cards for Edie, an elderly woman who spent 30 years of her life as a caretaker for a husband who could neither move nor talk. Even when the husband was still alive and well, Edie claims he was controlling and difficult, and she seems to harbor no nostalgia even for the early days of her marriage and motherhood. Her attitude is more one of prideful resentment: She fulfilled the duties that her commitments required of her, but in the process, she missed out on everything else she might have done up to this point in life.
Cue: Mount Suilven, in the Scottish Highlands. Edie once wanted to hike it with her father, but her husband got in the way; now, finally free of her commitments, she can take on the mission herself.
As one might expect from a film about a hike up a mountain, it’s full of gorgeous visuals. The contrast between the dull world of the city and the beautiful countryside provides an apt emotional shift toward the beginning, when Edie falls asleep on the train and then wakes up hours later surrounded by lush, beautiful nature. The score accompanying moments like these is overly sentimental, and generally fits an overarching trend of elements in the movie that feel like cliché but still manage to remain sweet and appealing. The silent mountain man who offers Edie shelter during a storm is another example, as well as the meet-cute she has with Jonny, the outdoors shop salesman who knocks her over at the train station and eventually winds up helping her up the mountain.
Edie’s friendship with Jonny is genuinely touching, and it also opens up ripe territory for some of the film’s moments of brilliant uncomfortableness and conflict — like when Jonny, encouraging Edie to get out of her hotel and live a little, takes her out to a bar for drinks with his friends. For perhaps the first real time we feel the age difference between Edie and those around her, and the ageism that increasingly stands in her way in even the most casual arenas in life. She can’t even dress up nice for a night out and go for a drink without being glanced and laughed at. It’s not just physicality that stands in the way between Edie and a new life, a new way of perceiving herself — it’s an emotional weight that has accrued around her for years.
It’s hard to like Edie at the beginning. Hancock’s performance draws us in, but the character herself is still rather cold to her daughter Nancy, and rude to perfectly nice people, particularly Jonny. But as the movie progresses, Edie’s resilience speaks for itself, and we can come to see how her steadfastness is more than a crotchety exterior, but a trait that she has had to engender in order to steel herself against an outer life determined to constantly control her direction.
More than any other singular element, the film has Hancock — who actually completed the hike up the mountain in real life — to thank, for the brilliant work undertaken to achieve the realness and feeling that Edie ultimately embodies by the end of the movie. She brings life, regret and determination to every shot; when she confesses to Jonny, in one of the film’s most gut-twisting moments, that she would do most of her life over again if she could, we feel those words along with her.
The final scene, in which Edie and Jonny reach the summit together, also sees some of the peak performances (pun intended) of the entire film. Hancock looks out at the vast, sweeping world around her with tears in her eyes, and we experience along with her the true perceptive mission of the movie, and the way in which Edie is undertaking a practice in turning the world inward. Her goal, of all things, was to climb a mountain: to see as much of the world as a person can see at one time, and to get there herself. To give herself this gift is like to see that the whole world lives inside her, and inside what she can still do.