“I don’t have any idea where it’s supposed to go”
From the mouths of babes: Christian Jensen‘s White Earth is The Overnighters from the perspective of those uprooted along with the men heading to the North Dakotan oil fields. One boy remains in his trailer by himself rather than go to school while his father works. A young girl who traveled with her family from California so her dad could get a job makes new friends. And another girl—this one born and raised in the titular town—watches as strangers overrun the peaceful state she grew to love. Oil becomes an everyday staple in their lives, a subject in school and the sole reason they can afford to survive cold winters. Without censor or reason to be diplomatic, they share the pros and cons of the industry it relates to their personal childhoods.
For them the American Dream is little more than a phrase they may have never even heard. They go along with what their parents are doing and grow to forge their own understanding of what North Dakota gives them. They have their own aspirations, none of which involve working in the fields themselves despite knowing in the back of their heads that it may end up their only option. The parents do it so their kids won’t have to, but as more people arrive to simultaneously make jobs scarce and drive up standard of living costs, every new eighteenth birthday more than likely carries the inevitability of permanent residence. And those who will eventually get out? The oil is already in their blood since its existence is most likely a driving force for their escape.
Jensen’s film becomes an educational look at the Northern Plains’ changing landscape via those who to experience what it means to live there. Their fathers spend so much time on the rigs that home respites are spent sleeping rather than living. To them this way of life is a means to an end, for their children it’s the only reality they know. You can’t therefore blame each for their frustrations, unable to reconcile adulthood responsibility with their yearning to be loved. We know their parents do it for that love, but these middle-schoolers only see their isolation in a desolate world far removed from what they used to know. It would appear crude oil always creates a hot button issue for American families, not just the reserves in the Middle East.