US, 2018, 96 minutes, Colour.
Kodi Smit Mc Phee, Johannes Haukur Johannesson.
Directed by Albert Hughes.
Over the decades there has been a cinema interest in prehistory including Quest for Fire and The Cave of the Clan Bear from a story by Jean Auel. The storyline of this film is more simple and straightforward.
This is a film that is seen best in the cinema, on a large and wide screen. The cinematography is impressive and striking, prehistoric landscapes, mountains and cliffs, lakes and rivers, the different seasons, snow and ice as well as the primitive village of the humans in Europe, 20,000 years ago. The landscapes were filmed in Canada, the province of Alberta.
The film opens with the men of the tribe assembling, crawling on the ground towards a herd of bison, then an attack, frightening scenes of terrified animals falling over cliffs, the role of the warriors especially when a young man is held by an animal and tossed over the cliff. Prehistoric times were not genteel.
The film then goes into flashback, focusing on the young man, a teenager, Keda (an impressive performance and screen presence by Australian Kodi Smit- Mc Phee). There are initiation rituals, some young men failing, others sharpening spearheads showing their priowess and for future use.
The main part of the film is the lone journey of survival for Keda. He finds water. He eats worms for sustenance. His leg is injured and he grinds herbs to make poultices for his recovery. He is pursued by a pack of wolves and takes refuge in a tree – but, one of the wolves is injured and he shares cave with the wolf, overcoming the snarling with some kindness, suggestions of empathy between the wolf and the human, Keda offering him water, hunting a rabbit and then sharing food.
Keda’s father has explained to him leadership in the tribe, the literal Alpha male – and Keda gives this name to the wolf.
The two travel together, discover a man frozen in the ice, Keda falling through the ice and Alpha helping in the rescue, confrontations with a giant bear-like beast – and the desperation of hunger as they move through the winter, snow and ice.
The film is impressive in many ways, directed by Albert Hughes (whose previous films were with his brother, Allen Hughes, Dead Presidents, From Hell, The Book of Eli). It also has an international cast with leads from Iceland in Poland.
So, an imaginative and speculative reflection on pre-history and evolutionary developments as well as human/canine bonding (which is taking the place of the rather exclusivist language of dogs as Man’s Best Friend).
1. Imagining prehistory? Speculating about human nature, human behaviour? Evolution?
2. The recreation of the landscapes of Europe, 20,000 years ago, the mountains, cliffs, rivers, the seasons and snow and ice? The musical score?
3. The humans (and their resemblance to 21st-century humans)? Appearance, the men and the women, teenagers? Warriors and hunters? Family bonds? Clothes, weapons? Caves, fears? The respect for ancestors, the spirits?
4. The opening hunt, the bison, the attack, the men crawling, the panic of the beasts, the raid, the animals going over the cliffs, Keda and the attack, his being tossed over the cliff? On the ledge, survival? The hunters and their collecting of meat for the winter season?
5. Keda, his age, the initiation, the quality of the knife, his father presiding, the fight and the bashing of the initiates? His listening to his parents’ comment about him, his mother saying he led with his heart rather than the spear? Admiring his father? Participating in the hunt, attacked by the animal, his father spearing the animal, his being tossed? The vulture and his confrontation? Climbing down the cliff, the rain, falling into the water, left? His injuries and his treatment of his leg?
6. As a survivor, water, food and worms, the poultices for his leg, the attack of the wolves, hiding the tree, the wolf being wounded, his concern?
7. The caves, the wolf and its injury, the bond, giving the water, tending the wound, killing the rabbit, sharing the food, the efforts to make fire after his initial failures? The wolf snarling, but changing in trust?
8. The travelling of the landscapes, sharing, the coming of the winter, ice and snow, the man frozen. Keda going beneath the ice, the rescue? The arrival of the other wolves, Keda letting Alpha go for the family?
9. Human/canine relationships? The bonds? The naming of the wolf Alpha?
10. The effect on Keda, his father saying had more strength than he knew, the encounter with the frozen man in his tent, the beast in the cave and the fight, Alpha wounded again? His carrying Alpha? Seeing the snow-covered cairns? The stars on the map on his hand?
11. The camp, arrival, collapse, the welcome, reunited with mother and father, caring for Alpha? The surprise birth of the cub?
12. The tribe, the number of wolves, humans and walls bonding? A stage in evolution?