A family in crisis deals with tragedy in a truly novel way. Burn Your Maps is a quirky drama filled with adventure and a whole lot of heart. The plot is a bit too fantastical, but the strength of the performances grounds the narrative when needed. Vera Farmiga is sublime as a mother who takes extraordinary measures for her son's happiness. Their journey to spiritual awakening heals frayed bonds and forces a reckoning with grief. Burn Your Maps leaves you optimistic and filled with wanderlust. It's an uplifting diversion from the hectic summer box office.
Burn Your Maps opens with Alise (Vera Farmiga) and Conner (Marton Csokas) Firth in a counseling session. The tragic death of their infant daughter has the family reeling. Alise has been unable to cope with the loss of her child, becoming cold and distant. Conner is worried the gulf between them has become too wide. The biggest point of consternation is the behavior of their eight-year-old son. Wes (Jacob Tremblay) believes he is the reincarnation of a Mongolian goat herder. What was first thought to be a minor fascination has turned into full blown belief. His parents, teenage sister (Taylor Geare), and teachers have no idea how to handle his perplexing change.
Alise refuses to send Wes to a psychiatrist. She makes the drastic decision to whisk him away to Mongolia. Mother and son embark on the trip without a clue to its outcome. Along the way they meet an Indian filmmaker (Suraj Sharma), an ex-nun (Virginia Madsen), and a handsome bus driver (Ramón Rodríguez). Mongolia has a profound affect on the Firth family. The people and culture rekindles their love for each other. They come to terms with death and are reminded of life's glorious possibilities.
Burn Your Maps holds your interest without resorting to melodrama. The sadness each character feels is personal and honest. The trip to Mongolia becomes the lifeline to their understanding of tragedy. Wes' connection to the nomadic herders brings his family together. Director/writer Jordan Roberts skillfully juxtaposes their physical and spiritual travels. It is a reminder that finding closure is long, arduous, and might be in an unexpected place. But is entirely achievable if you are willing to undertake the journey.
Young Jacob Tremblay continues to be impressive. His performance as Wes is the crux of the film. You can't help but smile as Wes realizes his dreams on the steppes of Mongolia. Vera Farmiga, much like Brie Larson in Room, gives Tremblay the space to fully inhabit his character. He's realistic and believable in a role that could have easily looked foolish. I did get a kick out of seeing Martin Csokas playing the kind, concerned father. He also shows some acting range by not playing his usual dastardly villain.
Burn Your Maps stirs your sense of adventure while addressing a tragic circumstance. It is a small story with a big compass. Burn Your Maps originally premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2016. I'm glad it has finally made its way to theaters and video on demand. Burn Your Maps is produced by Cinelou Films and distributed by Vertical Entertainment.