However, Cal doesn’t really know his son and David doesn’t know his father. David is a disappointing city boy to his dad. The forced bonding is awkward and confusing for two males with such very different definitions of what it means to be a father or a son. Cal wants the same groove with David that he had with his own father, Clyde (Bill Pullman) and tells David this, suggesting it was the most rewarding relationship of his life. He pushes David very hard to play out that script with him, hoping he’ll mutate, awakening a genetically transmitted nascent outdoorsman.
In flashbacks we learn about Cal’s formative time with Clyde. Cal craves isolation, but dreads it as well, fearing the silence he believes hurt his father. Discussing Clyde’s narcolepsy diagnosis after his wife died, Cal speculates that Clyde didn’t really have narcolepsy but in fact was just awake alone for so many empty hours.
“…the son becomes the father as David finds his own strengths, different from Cal but with the same will and endurance…”
For all his pretentious outdoors mansplaining, Cal is actually right about everything in the woods… and when s**t goes bad from a traumatic accident David has to remember everything he was told and rely on Cal’s wisdom to haul himself and his dad, both injured, out of of the wild and back to civilization for help. Cal learns he has overestimated his son with his blind belief and hope in David having inherited his skills and that unearned faith has almost certainly doomed them both.
There are echoes of The Revenant in the challenges faced by the father and son. Ultimately, as the hero’s journey plays out again, the son becomes the father as David finds his own strengths, different from Cal but with the same will and endurance as they walk out.