I realize that this movie may not come readily to mind when you think of 'American Indian
Movies.' It is definitely not Dances With Wolves (even though they both
feature wolves) or Cheyenne Autumn. There are no cavalry charges or
visits to the reservation. But, it does look at societal issues which I
think are interesting and important.
The film version of Never Cry Wolf came out in 1983. It is based on the
1963 book of the same name by Farley Mowat. The book is Mowat's
recollection of his trip into the Canadian artic to investigate the
effect of wolves on the caribou population. The book goes into more
detail than the movie. In the preface to the latest edition of the book,
Mowat says: "We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we
deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be--the mythologized epitome
of a savage, ruthless killer--which is, in reality, no more than the
reflected image of ourself."
Filmed near Nome, Alaska, Never Cry Wolf won the National Society of
Film Critics Award for Cinematography. It was nominated for an Academy
Award in the Best Sound category. The PG rated, 105 minute movie's
simple description or tagline was: "They Thought He Couldn't Do the Job.
That's Why They Chose Him." In the movie, the Mowat's character is
called Tyler. Tyler's purpose is to determine how wolves are harming the
caribou population. His research proves that the wolves are actually
helping the herd by culling the sick and old. He also learns that man is
doing more harm than the wolves.
The movie has a small cast. Charles Martin Smith plays Tyler. You may
remember Smith from his other roles in the movies American Graffiti, The
Buddy Holly Story, Starman and The Untouchables. I have always liked
him. Brian Dennehy plays bush pilot-entrepreneur Rosie. Zachary
Ittimanangnaq plays an older Inuit named Ootek. Sampson Jorah plays a
younger Inuit named Mike.
The movie, without being too overt about it, reflects on the clash of
cultures between the Inuit and the non-Indian population. It also looks
at old traditions vs. modern life. Ootek and Mike are not stereotypical
"Eskimos," but real people. It touches their culture without being
mystical about it. The movie, while also being comical, has a nice
"real" feeling to it. We see the difficulties that the younger Inuit (30
years old?+/-) faces in a modern world. We also experience what the old
life was like through Ootek and who I believe is his true-life wife
The scenery is phenomenal. From mountain peaks to frozen lakes to rocky
shores to wide open prairies, I love the natural beauty shown in this
Never Cry Wolf is rated PG. The PG rating comes from a few scenes where
Tyler, who is drying out after a dip into a very cold lake, runs nude
across the prairie when he is surprised by some caribou. This is a
Disney film, so the nudity is only from the rear. While I do not know if
it is intentional, I could see some symbolism on 'naturalism vs.
materialism' in this scene.
The movie has a slower pace to it than is common nowadays. It also
features some beautiful minimalistic music (ala Philip Glass).
I highly recommend this movie for anyone who likes beautiful scenery, a
look at American Indians with a light-touch, a perspective on 'survival
of the fittest', and a cautionary tale on environmentalism.
There is also something to be said about a Disney movie where the lead
character actually eats mice. Mickey must be turning in his grave.