The Arctic, still relatively unexplored, continues to captivate creatives and scientists alike.
It is one of the last, great, unexplored frontiers, and with that, comes the potential for great storytelling.
From breathtaking documentaries, to gritty thrillers taking advantage of the crippling isolation, many stories have been told about the Arctic circle, and in no particular order, here are five of our favorites!
The Savage Innocents (1960)
Directed by Nicholas Ray, this 1960 adventure film starring Anthony Quinn (and Peter O’Toole in an early film role), tells the story of an Inuit man named Inuk (Quinn), who kills a Christian missionary after he refuses his wife’s traditional food.
Finding himself at the mercy of vengeful American policemen seeking to bring him to justice, the honorable Inuk saves the life of one of them, leading to the officer’s moral dilemma of seeing through his duty, and showing loyalty to his savior.
Widely believed to be the inspiration between Bob Dylan’s 1967 song “Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, the film has remained a cult favorite for its somewhat unconventional narrative and accomplished cast.
Nanook Of The North (1922)
One of the first documentaries ever made, this beautifully shot 1922 short film tells the story of the Inuit people living in northern Canada.
Directed and written by Robert J. Flaherty, the film was unanimously praised by critics, and still upholds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 30 reviews.
However, despite the impressive footage, shot in remote locations in the Canadian Arctic, and the subject matter, being the first of its kind to depict indigenous Inuit peoples, the film was marred with factual inaccuracies.
Despite being pitched as non-fiction, several elements of the film have been discounted as staged.
One famous scene in particular, where the crew filmed the building of an igloo from the inside, was in actual fact much larger than the average one, and was insufficiently built so as to accommodate the camera equipment.
Another scene, deemed poor taste in modern standards, sees Nanook meeting a white trader, who shows the supposedly naive Nanook a gramophone, a concept which seems to baffle him, resulting in him biting the record with his teeth.
Other elements, such as “Nanook” actually being called Allakariallak, and his “wife” not actually being his wife, also drew criticism against Flaherty.
Despite this, however, the film is still lauded for its impressive footage, educational material, and for perfectly capturing the era’s interest in arctic exploration.
Ice Station Zebra (1968)
This 1968 espionage film, directed by John Sturges, received mixed reviews at the time of its release, but has since become something of a cult hit decades later.
Starring Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, and Patrick McGoohan, this Cold War narrative tells the story of an ejected satellite capsule that crash lands in the Arctic ocean, destroying the nearby Ice Station Zebra, who report fires and multiple casualties.
What comes next is a race against the clock with Hudson’s Submarine Commander Ferraday, McGoohan’s “Mr. Jones” (a British spy), and Borgnine’s “Boris Vaslov” (a Soviet defector) trying to ascertain what happened to the weather facility.
As Jones informs Ferraday that the capsule contained high-tech camera footage of both US and USSR missile silo locations, and the traitorous Vaslov turns out to be a double agent, Ferraday detonates a device, destroying the footage, denying either side their evidence, and rescuing the survivors instead, leading to widespread praise for the “collaboration” between the US and Soviet forces.
The Midnight Sky (2020)
Released in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, this tale of isolation, loneliness, and hope proved oddly poignant for many viewers.
Directed by and starring George Clooney, The Midnight Sky sees reclusive scientist Augustine Lofthouse surviving on a remote research station in the Arctic Circle.
With much of the Earth’s population wiped out in some unexplained disaster, and the world coated in heavy radioactivity, Lofthouse seeks to warn the uninformed crew of a manned space station about the dangers on Earth, before they reach Earth and share the same fate.
Despite its apocalyptic narrative, the message of the film centers around appreciating people, and the peace that can be found in letting them in, as the regretful Lofthouse shows over the course of the film.
This beautifully shot film, co-starring Felicity Jones and Sophie Rundle, was praised for its “thoughtful” themes, and emotive content, which provided a stark and honest view of humanity, and the things we take for granted.
Far North (2007)
This independently produced film, directed by Asif Kapadia, tells the story of two Inuit women trying to find their home following a harsh storm in the sub-arctic Siberia.
Far North stars Michelle Yeoh as “Saiva”, Michelle Krusiec as her daughter “Anja”, and Sean Bean as “Loki”, a mysterious soldier found wounded and near frozen in the wastes.
As Saiva reluctantly nurses him back to health, and Loki bonds with her daughter Anja, the film takes a twisted turn.
As the weather turns hostile, Saiva begins to lose her mind at the loss of her daughter to Loki, and after strangling Anja (under the guise of combing her hair), seducing Loki whilst wearing her daughter’s face, and then sending a devastated Loki into the tundra to his death, the film ends as cold, harsh, and savage as the weather of Siberia itself.
This film again tackles loneliness, as well as notions of good, evil, prophecy, and the past, which all the characters seem to carry with them as a cumbersome weight.
As can be seen by these films, common factors are isolation and resilience, themes that are reflective of the Arctic itself.
But predominantly, the overriding theme is duality, seen in the beauty and purity of the landscape, and the harsh penalty for those who take it lightly.
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