Nanook of the North, Essay Example

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Essay

Nanook of the North, or Nanook of the North: A Story of Life and Love in the Actual Arctic, is a silent film Directed in 1922, by Robert J Flaherty. In addition to being a film depicting the harsh realities of survival in the harshest of weather conditions, it is also recognized in most historical circles as the very first documentary.  This ultimately put Flaherty in the position of defining core aspects of the documentary genre entirely based on decisions he made while filming Nanook of the North. He was the first to use the medium of film as a tool to produce a documented historical artifact, but many of his decisions throughout the film process bring into question whether the film is more significant as a documentation of Inuit culture or simply as record of being the first documentary itself.

The film follows the life of Nanook, an Inuit or Eskimo, who lives in northern arctic-like region of Quebec.  The area was so hostile in regards to climate and survival conditions that the rigors of the land became as much a character in the film as Nanook and his wives. “Shot after shot reasserts the harshness of an environment where nothing grows. But its inhabitants, whom Flaherty introduces as the “fearless, lovable, happy-go-lucky Eskimo,” are remarkably insouciant in the face of an unending life-and-death struggle (Silver, p2).”The films main captivating quality is the draw of the wild, and the intrigue of surviving outside the Western Society, under what most would deem impossible odds and showing exactly how it’s done.  Many authors have written on the events that led Robert Flaherty to transform from professional explorer into professional filmmaker, as Alain Silver puts it, “from making maps of Hudson Bay and searching for ore deposits for the Canadian railways and mining companies-to making a silent film for Revillion Frères that became Nanook of the North (Silver p1).” Possibly due to its tie of release in 1922, Nanook of the North is the one film most often cited by historians as the first feature-length documentary.

The two most defining scenes of the film are Nanook’s battle with Orjuk and the igloo scene. As Silver notes, “A particularly stark yet elegiac sequence is the final hunt for the Orjuk or great seal. After finding a blow hole in the ice, Nanook waits patiently for the moment to fling his harpoon. Using eight shots, Flaherty captures his formidable struggle with the unseen prey (Silver, p3).” The author goes onto note that there is no real telling how long this scene took as the intensity of the match between Nanook and the seal implied it was a grueling, drawn out epic battle for the ages, but Flaherty is able to film it in just 8 shots and a run time of 2 minutes. Seeing as this is one of the climactic moments of the film, the level of Flaherty’s influence on manipulating the reality of this scene is in question. Likewise, the igloo scene, which is recognized as a very power part of the film, has been recognized as a reenactment of the real even. “Flaherty has sometimes been criticized by subsequent generations of documentarians for his “reconstruction” of scenes, most notably inside the igloo. Since the real thing was much too small and dark for filming, Flaherty’s actors built an oversized model (Silver, p4).” It’s easy to see here that the man identified as the Father of the Documentary genre, very much saw himself as a filmmaker as much as a revolutionary of anthropology.

In sum, the main theme the viewer takes away from Nanook of the North is the motif of humanness and family. Warmth emanates from the film, warmth that can only stem from genuine love and concern the characters feel for one another. Flaherty’s participation and contribution to this family oriented feeling is also a major part of the film. It’s implied in the opening disclaimer that informs the audience Nanook’s demise before film even starts, as well as the small details Flaherty reveals about his experiences interacting with Nanook. It is implied that throughout the course of this adventure Nanook and Flaherty became friends.  What is left to debate, is whether the viewer feels equally a part of this bond.

Work Cited

Alexander, Geoff. “Leacock Essays.” Leacock Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2012. <http://www.afana.org/leacockessays.htm>.

Silver, Alain. “Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North”” One World Magazine.Org. One World Magazine, n.d. Web. 26 June 2012. <http://www.oneworldmagazine.org/seek/nanook/nanotext.htm>.

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