A better complement than 'The Big Trail' would be 'The Blair Witch Project,' another film that taps into an American unease with the wilderness that is the shadow twin of the country's bold sense of manifest destiny.
Be warned. Some stretches are almost as much of a slog for the viewer as they are for the pioneers... But Meek's Cutoff conveys a far more realistic account of what life was really like on the frontier trail than John Wayne or Clint Eastwood ever did.
"Meek's Cutoff" works wonders even if you don't buy the political metaphor, instead appreciating the film as a historical survival tale and a meditation on the nature of trust - how others win it from us and why we give it to them.
Imagine a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens and you might get a sense of what Kelly Reichardt pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the pioneer experience, brought to life through careful, often unexpected detail.