Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Wild hiking into theaters, we’ve lined up a series of films about people braving the great outdoors.
Never Cry Wolf (1983)
A man travels to a hostile foreign environment, only to develop a primal connection to it, in Carroll Ballard’s majestic and moving Never Cry Wolf. The follow-up to 1979’s The Black Stallion, Ballard’s sophomore directorial effort is similarly fascinated with the natural world in all its breathtaking beauty, which here takes the form of the Canadian arctic, where a government biologist named Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) is unceremoniously dumped on a research assignment. Tyler has been tasked with verifying whether wolves are responsible for the area’s dwindling caribou population. However, before he can even begin to study his subjects, he’s forced to simply adapt to his harsh surroundings—an arduous endeavor that involves him falling through a lake’s surface ice, learning to subsist on cooked mice, and befriending an Intuit named Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq) who provides him with a cabin in which to stay.
Shot on location and often in silence save for Tyler’s narrated thoughts and writings, Never Cry Wolf (based on Farley Mowat’s autobiography) often plays more like a docudrama than a scripted feature, with Ballard spending copious time simply gazing (like Tyler) at wolf packs and snow-capped mountain ranges with reverent awe. In doing so, he creates a sense of kinship between man, beast, and the land they both inhabit. Before long, Tyler has not only acclimated himself to this new terrain, but become one with it—a notion visualized in a stunning climactic sequence in which he runs, naked, amid a herd of caribou being preyed upon by wolves. Throughout, Smith’s performance exhibits a quiet, introspective intensity that’s emblematic of the entire film, which only stumbles during a conclusion involving pilot Rosie (Brian Dennehy) that too neatly underlines its arguments about natural-resource exploitation. Alternately hopeful and melancholy, it’s a haunting ode to the untamable outdoors, to the universal thirst for survival, and to a primitive past—and way of life—destined for extinction.
Availability: Never Cry Wolf is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix or your local video store/library, or to rent or purchase through the major digital services.