This is can be a fun campfire discussion to have – what are your all time favourite movies? Top twenty? Top ten? So hard to decide. But it’s easier if you go for genres and sub-genres…like all time favourite wilderness movies! Across Albertan foothills to the Rockies (you could film wilderness adventures here…)
A movie that has stuck with me forever is Jeremiah Johnson (dir.Sidney Pollack, Warner Bros.1972) with Robert Redford playing the title role. Set in the mid 1800s, Jeremiah is a war veteran heading away from his past, looking for a quiet life, to be self sufficient, alone, and in his own cabin. No spoilers, but this being a movie, what he wishes for and what happens are two different creatures…
My first viewing I was about 10 years old, and it knocked me out. I’m not sure I was quite mature enough to be watching, but my mother, Ma PlaidCamper, had a bit of a crush on Robert Redford, so I sat quietly when the movie started and hoped she wouldn’t notice I hadn’t gone to bed. She didn’t, and I hadn’t, which means I can thank Hollywood superstar Robert Redford for helping me become the PlaidCamper I am today. (If you’re reading this, thanks Robert).
Pretty and wild – Jeremiah would have liked the Athabasca River, AB
Back to the movie. I’d never seen anything like it before. To my tender eyes, it was tough, bloody, full of action, and Jeremiah wore really great buckskins and had an epic beard. His adventures seemed realistic, and took place in landscapes I didn’t know and thought were impossibly beautiful – not that my 10 year old self would ever have admitted that last part. But the settings – the movie was shot in Utah – and trappings (no pun intended) did appeal to me all those years ago. I lived in a suburb of Reading, a medium sized town just to the west of London UK, so log cabins built beneath snow capped peaks that towered over mighty forests seemed unreachable, exciting, and exotic to that young man. To be fair, living where we did, a small hill, or a field with a few cows often seemed pretty wild.
Snow capped peaks – Castle Mountain, Bow Valley AB
I was clearly impressionable and susceptible to the myth making wiles of Redford and Pollack, and that seems to me to be no bad thing for a young boy. By today’s standards, some might find the movie to be slow paced. I prefer to think that it unfolds comfortably, giving the story and characters room to breathe. There are wordless sequences like visual tone poems, and scenes full of natural beauty that establish the different moods of the movie.
On the surface, the movie plays as a simple adventure and revenge tale, but it is more complex than that. I appreciate that the depiction of culture clashes and the predominant perspective of the movie may seem outdated or questionable to today’s sensibilities. However, as I sit writing this and think about the movie and the impact it had on a prepubescent PlaidCamper, I can say it planted a few seeds about respecting environments, the value of natural resources, disappearing cultures, and how to better resolve conflict when competing for valuable shared resources. Not that 10 year old me was thinking about any of that as he watched the movie for the very first time. To be honest, I was waiting for the next cool fight.
Tall trees and fresh air…
I’m very happy to report that snow capped peaks, log cabins, and mighty forests are still exciting to my aging self many years later. I’ve not worn buckskin – PlaidCamper, remember – but I have grown a couple of decent beards when the mood has taken me, and my inner 10 year old never lets me forget Jeremiah and the sense of wonder his story sparked. Or is that a sense of wander?
Have you seen Jeremiah Johnson? Do you have a favourite wilderness movie recommendation? Please feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.