“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”. Starring by Barry Pepper and Annabella Piugattuk who won the Best Lead Male and Woman Performance. 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.
Farley McGill Mowat (1921-2014) Canadian writer, naturalist, conservationist, an environmental advocate was born in Belleville, Ontario. Internationally acclaimed novelist, the author of many books which have been translated into several languages. He often 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.
”Never Cry Wolf” is Mowat’s most widely known book, written in 1963. It is 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 of 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 in 2003 Mowat re-released The Snow Walker. An anthology of short stories which included “Walk Well, My Brother” and preface 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 this 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. This ignorance made him feel abhorred with the local people 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. Whom he felt deep repugnance for her 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 to the way she does things over the journey but she just agrees with him.
The secondary protagonist is Konala. She is very sick with tuberculosis and been sent to a hospital by her husband with Charlie to Yellowknife. As a first nation woman, she shows respect and loyalty him throughout the story. Even with how 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 volumes everything Charlie can do but he does not appreciate any of the things that she can do. He would rather eat beans from a can instead of taking a nice cooked meal from her in order to demonstrate to her that he can do things on his own. The conflict finds a solution almost at the end of the story when Konala come 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. Additional to that racist and sexist towards Konala due to her skin colour, because she is a woman and the way she does things differently to survive 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 I would say happens when they meet the bear almost end of their journey. This is the first dangerous animal they have faced. Knowing they didn’t work well together earlier and it’s a major test for Charlie to see if he has finally matured enough respect to help Konala out.
The main symbol of the novel is the boots that Konala 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.