Promised Land centers on the debate over fracking. Steve and Sue have come to a small town to buy up the mining rights for their giant corporate company, "Global Industries." It's a film that works hard to evoke a sense of place. Most of the movie takes place entirely in the fictional town of McKinley — a rural, run-down, one-horse town that is supposed to look at home in any fly-over state, without actually being filmed in any of them.
Filming took place in Western Pennsylvania. There are only slight references to McKinley's geographical location, and only if the viewer is really looking for them. Aside from a brief reference to Teterboro Airport (New Jersey), locations are simply, “the State” or “the City.” While driving, Sue says, “I can’t believe this is right outside the city...it looks like Kentucky.” My sense is that it is supposed to take place in a small Midwestern town, but the film avoids directly identifying McKinley as such. This might then seem like an odd film choice for a discussion of Midwestern states, but it is precisely the film’s slipperiness around location that fascinates me. Why not outwardly identify the location in more detail? Why does the film work to obfuscate the locations? For example, Steve and Sue late discuss that "McKinley is the entrance point into the whole state."
Lawrence Buell argues that there’s been a trend in American literature to focus on nature and rurality in setting, theme, and tone. However this focus on rurality has not extended to the realities of a Hollywood production. While there remain exceptions, such as the television show Nashville, many more productions are content to film in the "Hollywood North." So when Sue evokes the image of Kentucky, people watching from the American coasts might have no visual referent for what Kentucky really looks like. All of these “looks like Kentucky” impressions are built on imperfect Hollywood representations. These midwestern states remain -- to many -- identical looking fly-over states.