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“The Snow
Walker” is a
survival drama movie. Written and directed by Charles Martin Smith, adaptation
one of the Farley McGill Mowat short stories “Walk Well, My
Brother”. The film
tells a character-driven story and breaking down the walls of prejudice between
cultures and religions. “The Snow Walker” was nominated for several awards,
including Best Motion Picture, won six Leo Awards and the Best
Screenplay Adaptation by Charles Martin Smith. Barry Pepper and Annabella Piugattuk won the Best Lead
Male and Woman Performance.

Farley McGill Mowat (1921-2014) Canadian writer,
naturalist, conservationist, an environmental advocate was born in Belleville,
Ontario. He is an internationally acclaimed novelist, the author of many books
which have been translated into several languages. Wrote about isolated native populations,
such as the Caribou Inuits or about animal life, especially threatened species.
His creation includes “Lost in the Barrens”, a winner of Canada’s
Governor General’s Award, “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float”, “People
of the Deer”, “The Snow Walker”, “A Whale for the
Killing”, “The Passion of Dian Fossy” and etc.

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“Never Cry Wolf” is Mowat’s most widely
known book, an autobiographical story about the study of Arctic wolves and his
solo mission adventures as a biologist in the Keewatin Barren Lands in northern
Manitoba. The book is credited with changing the stereotypically negative
perception of wolves as vicious killers. Mowat wrote: “We have doomed the
wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive
it to be the mythological epitome of a savage, ruthless killer.”

As an actor, Charles Martin Smith played the main role
in Never Cry Wolf.  He had been affected
by involvement in making that film and decided to adopt another book of Farley
Mowat, The Snow Walker, by the man, he once depicted with. He chose “Walk
Well, My Brother” the short story. The reason for choosing was the
simplicity of the story, putting two different people against the elements of
the Northwest Territories. Screenplay contains some elements from “The
Blood in their Veins” and other Farley Mowat’s stories. Later he
re-released The Snow Walker. An anthology of short stories which included
“Walk Well, My Brother” and preface has been featured by Smith.

“Walk Well, My Brother” is about of two
different cultures that forcibly come together in order to remain alive in the
frozen tundra. The short story illustrates how a person can get to know from
another person who is entirely different from them and be changed by their
arrogance and making him a good person. With a minimum of dialogue, it also
tells us the importance of not being prejudicial toward another people, culture
and religion and sends out a major message.

The main protagonist is the Charlie Lavery. He works
as a Pilot in the Yukon Territory, when the story starts. He served as a
Military bomber pilot during the war and counted on his capability of looking
after himself no matter what the circumstances. He is relying on technology. As
the author says, “he was very much of the new elite that believed that any
challenge could be dealt with by good machines in the hands of skilled
men”. Charles wasn’t familiar with the Arctic and the people that lived
there. He thought that he did not need this wisdom as long as he had his
reliability to machines. It was this ignorance made him feel revulsion them who
lived there because he was not acquainted with native’s way of life. When his
trustworthy machines were no longer of use, he had no experience to fall back
upon and entirely dependent on a first nation woman Konola to whom he felt deep
repugnance at first sight. His lack of ability care of himself made him to
co-operate and to try to get well this person who was so foreign to him.
Charlie behaves toward Konala with constant lack of courtesy over the journey.

The secondary protagonist is Konala. She is very sick
with tuberculosis. Her husband sent her to a hospital with Charlie to
Yellowknife. As a first nation woman, she shows respect and loyalty him over
the story, even when Charlie is mistreating her. As a native person she has
huge experience of how to remain alive in the wilderness and like Charlie, she
hasn’t had any dependence on technology. Konala values everything Charlie does
but he does not appreciate her at all. 
He prefers to eat beans from a can instead of taking a nice cooked fish
from her in order to demonstrate that he can manage things on his own. The
conflict finds a solution almost at the end of the story when Konala comes to
the aid of him, worn out in the fields and he gains her as a friend.

Charlie is angry, thinks only of himself, a resentful
individual who is self-absorbed. Furthermore, he is racist and sexist towards
Konala, due to her skin colour, because she is a woman and how she does things
differently in order to stay alive in the outdoors. After the plane crashes he
blames her for every single thing that goes not well. He humiliates Konala by
calling her ” a bloody albatross around his neck” and “eat it
yourself,  you animal” when she
offers him a food. Despite he had left her to die she still goes after him
throughout the Arctic in order to save him. Charlie gradually starts to show
respect this woman and he begins to realize that he was wrong. In the story
Charlie is asking himself; “Why had Konola not stayed in the relative
safety of the aircraft or else travelled north to seek her own people? What had
impelled her… to rescue a man of another race who had abandoned her?” It
illustrates how Charles still feels discrimination toward her and reason is her
race. He cannot imagine how she would follow a man of “another race”.
For Konola it is not as important and that is why she feels bounded to save his
life. Charlie is very touched by her kindness. She looked after him and treated
him back to health even though she herself wasn’t well. This astonished Charles
and altered him from a selfish person to a more caring one. It changed his view
of the local people and on how he behaved toward others. At the end of the
story, Konola becomes too ill and weak to care for herself. He starts to look
after her which give us evidence about his alteration because of their
condition and for everything she has done for him.

The turning point of the story happens when they meet
the bear, first vicious animal they have faced. Knowing they didn’t work well
together earlier and it’s the main test for Charlie to see how he has finally
matured enough to respect, to help Konala out.

The main symbol of the short story is Konala’s boots
which she was using. Knowing she is reaching her end, Konala gives the boots
she has been fine walking in over their journey to Charlie and leaves him with
the words “Walk Well, My Brother”. They have bonded with one another
like brother and sister.

American by birth, C.M.Smith moved to live in Vancouver,
before making the “The Snow Walker”. His most notable roles as an
actor are “Toady” in George Lucas’s “American Graffiti” and
the “ill-fated accountant Oscar Wallace” in Brian De Palma’s
“The Untouchables”. Directing career has brought him the worldwide
acclaim. The film “Air Bud” which he directed won the Golden Reel
Award.  Made it one of the top grossed
film ever made in Canada.

In the film, Canadian actors played leading roles. Smith
was impressed by Barry Pepper’s performance as a baseball player “Roger
Maris” in the television movie “61” and invited him to the
primary role as Charlie Halliday. Like his hero in the film, Pepper has a
strong sense of adventure. When he was a child, his family sailed five years in
the waters of the South Pacific. “It takes a lot of courage,” he
says, “for a mother and father of three little boys to build a 50-foot
sailboat and say, “We are going to sail halfway around the world by
celestial navigation, the same way Columbus did. And we are going to teach you
about life. ” A kind of Robinson Crusoe meets National Geographic.”

“Saving Private Ryan”, Pepper played
”Bible-quoting sniper”, was a life-changing film for him and continued
working with Tom Hanks in “The Green Mile”. Pepper performed in big
Hollywood production like Seven Pounds, Enemy of the State, We Were Soldiers
and etc.

Pepper says about the movie that “what developed
was a collective collaborative family, something he’d never experienced before
on a set. People would really go the extra mile to try and find the perfect
prop, like the pocketknife that is the only one that my character would carry.
They didn’t just go out into the back of their truck and find you some piece of
junk they used in another film. They’d really put some love into it because
they cared about you as a person”

The most challenging part was finding the female
co-star. He has been advised to use Asian actress as the main protagonist.
Smith was looking for a young woman who could speak Inuktitut and had knowledge
of traditional ways to act Kanaalaq. 
Flyers have been posted and advertisements took out in local newspapers
throughout the northern communities. “I was confident that we could find
somebody,” Smith recalls. “but the difficulty was that they, the
Inuit, are, generally speaking, a reticent people. I knew that if we were to go
up there and contact the people in the villages in the Far North and say ‘We
are looking for an actor,’ no one would respond because they don’t answer those
ads.” It took six months until casting director met her at the local dance
club and elected after reviewed thousands of young Inuit girls. Most of them
were non-actors like Piugattuk. She has been chosen for her bilingual language
knowledge in her native language and English. Hunting ability and survival
techniques brought believability to her role.

Several Inuit people have been recruited as extras and
the John Houston, co-producer of the movie, is one of the Inuit people and grew
up in a native village.

“The Snow Walker” was filmed in northern Canadian
lands, with breathtaking wildlife, sparse wilderness, and crystal clear lakes.
Sometimes those places were dangerous. Even the director forced to shut down
the shooting for some days due to the storm of the gigantic horseflies, called
“bulldogs,” and the infamous northern mosquitoes. Tundra scenes made
in Churchill, Manitoba, caribou hunt in Merritt, British Columbia, aeroplane
crash and other scenes in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and Thompson-Nicola Regional
District, British Columbia. Winter scenes were filmed in -28 C with wind chills
going down to -45 C was part of it. “There were days it was so
excruciatingly cold that you thought that your ears were literally going to
crack off the side of your head,” Pepper recalls. “When I came home
all the skin peeled off my ears like they had been sunburned. It came off like
a lizard’s skin, and they said it was from the frostbite.” 

The score of the movie is composed by Michael Danna
and Paul Intson. Elements of ethnic Inuit instruments and music been placed by
two composers into this themes, including the Native American flute Sonoran,
percussion and throat singing. We can feel Inuit special flute sound in all
over “Kanaalaq’s Touch”. Symphonic underscoring nicely blends in with
the incorporated elements of exotic additions which emphases the Canadian rich wilderness
where Charlie meets with the tribal savagery of “Mosquito”,
“Caribou Hunt” and “Charlie in the Wilderness” which plays
without dialogue in the film.

“The Snow
Walker ” is a tale of adventure and survival.
A story about how the main characters are going to survive in Northern
Territories of Canada after a plane crash. Set in the 1950s, it features an
arrogant white pilot, Charlie Halliday, who was bribed with walrus tusks into
taking a sick Inuit girl to a big city hospital. He is an ignorant racist. At
the opening scene  of the movie, we can
see how he scoffed at being called “Brother” by an Inuit. He is
sexist and fancy of himself as a man’s man. We get the sense that his “girl in
every port” lifestyle is driven by a “you only live once” attitude. But things
change in a crisis.

Problem with an aircraft engine, force Charlie to make a
crash landing only yards from the shore of a lake. Luckily both of them
unharmed during the crash. The radio is broken, crash place unknown to others
as he made derivation from the original route.
He sees this mysterious native woman as savage whose present is a heavy burden
for him. Furthermore, they cannot speak each other’s language. Kanaalaq knows a
little bit of English whilst Charlie is not familiar with Inuktitut. Also, he
has a penchant for screaming at inanimate objects, his angry tirade against his
own plane and to the radio when he can’t fix it.

Charlie thinks he can survive on his own in the
wilderness. Leaving her alone in the crash scene by promising the woman will
return soon with help and foolishly decides to go on foot long way alone. But
quickly discovers that he’ll have to rely on the Inuit girl’s knowledge and
skills if he is to survive the mosquitoes, the swamps, and the snow without
dying of exposure or starvation.

When he is awakened by swarms of gigantic horseflies and
mosquitoes which make him seek safety in flight over jagged rocks till falling
down and become unconscious. It is Inuit woman’s patient care healed him,
nursed his wounds and bites with herbs.

Only after all this, he bothers to ask her name. He
starts to communicate with this native woman in a sense he has never done with
anyone. By the time he realized that how she is glorious inside and respects
her as a little sister. He appreciates her for everything she does. Charlie
grows as a mature person we are watching a transformation happens in his
character as he learns not only how to survive, but how to love.

This love built on self-sacrifice and total self-gift.
It is a love that Kanaalaq almost innately possesses, as she selflessly and
wordlessly feeds, clothes, and heals her companion, no questions asked. Later
in the film, these qualities come to the fore as she shares the story of how
her mother left her starving family so that her children could have her share
of food and how she herself bit her own wrist to let her dying sister drink her
blood. Kanaalaq laughs as she tells this last bit, marvelling at how she
“tricked” Tarqeq, the moon god, by saving her sister’s life. 1

When Charlie and Kanaalaq find a wrecked plane
containing a partly burn corpse but also a trove of tools and weapons, he does
not understand, at first, why Kanaalaq refuses to go near any of the dead man’s
belongings.  Instead, she builds a
funeral cairn for the body and buries his tools with him.  Later Charlie begins to see that people and
objects have more meaning.  Kanaalaq’s
self-giving love extends even to the dead. She is willing to sacrifice a chance
for survival to ensure that the unfamiliar dead man will be safe in the
afterlife. 

When everyone presumes that Charlie is dead and his
boss holds a funeral service for him. We hear a mourning speech, the loss of a
life cut short in its prime.  We can see
that this speech is not for Charlie. It is for Kanaalaq and the words become a
voice-over for scenes of the dying girl coughing up blood and being carried by
Charlie across the snow. 

It is clear that contact with Kanaalaq incredibly
altered Charlie. Kanaalaq’s patient love gives him the chance, be able to break
out of his selfishness and learn how to love. The fundamental fact of his
change is when he willingly leaves his ivory tusks into her empty funeral
grave. The price was paid by Kanaalaq’s family to Charlie as safe passage to
bid city hospital in order to save her life.

The grave is empty because Kanaalaq like her mother
leaves Charlie at the midnight.  She does
not want to be a burden to him. His journey through the deepening winter might
be easier without caring of a dying woman. 
Charlie feels a great grief for Kanaalaq. He got another lesson from
her,  not only how to love, but how to
let himself be loved. 

In the opening scenes of the film, Charlie is
celebrating his birthday.  His girlfriend
tries to give him a gift, which he postpones opening because he is eager for
sex.  We never do find out what was in
the gift. Charlie is called away to work before he could open it. He departs on
his fateful voyage without saying goodbye to his girlfriend. When Charlie is
believed to be dead, we watch as his room is cleaned out and the unopened gift
swept into a cardboard box.

 

 

1 St.
Gregory of Nyssa’s ransom theory of atonement, which holds that Jesus’ death
“tricked” the devil and won life for the rest of mankind.

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