Whenever a film is set in the wilderness; the protagonist’s mental and physical limits are tested; and the themes include survival, triumph of the human spirit, and rejuvenation of compassion, you can detect a literary element in the development of the characters and the story. If the film also incorporates gorgeously recorded, sweeping shots of the landscape, and the conflict is man vs. nature or man vs. himself, then you’re almost certain that back in a high school English class you read a short story very similar to what you’re watching. Charles Martin Smith’s film “The Snow Walker” encompasses all of the aforementioned components and is indeed inspired by a piece of prose.
Based on a story called “Walk Well My Brother” by Farley Mowat, “The Snow Walker” takes place in the Northwestern Territories of Canada in 1953 and is about how a man’s journey into an unfamiliar world awakens his vitality. Charlie Halliday (Barry Pepper) is a pilot whose WWII experiences have left him with apparently one priority: have fun. He shoots pool at the local bar, makes love with his girlfriend, and delivers packages via air. En route to an assigned destination, he encounters a sick Inuit girl named Kanaalaq (Annabella Piugattuk) who forever changes his life. For two ivory seal tusks, Charlie agrees to fly her to the nearest town’s hospital. The airplane’s engine fails and dives into a lake. Stuck in the middle of endless grassy hills and scattered rocks, Charlie involuntarily depends upon Kanaalaq’s kindness and knowledge to stay alive. After spending three months with her, Charlie learns to appreciate a culture that he would have otherwise ignored and possibly belittled.
As you absorb the film’s stunning cinematography and witness Charlie’s transformation, you’re flooded with comfort. In the world we live in, it doesn’t take much for to think the worst of people. “The Snow Walker” argues that we shouldn’t give up on ourselves.