I watched an Icelandic film, called “Arctic”. There were two characters, and possibly twenty words spoken in the film. It was a remarkable movie about how humans deal with adversity and challenge. Not only the physical adversity and challenge associated with being lost in the Arctic and having to survive, but also the deeper issues of emotional adversity and life challenges.
How ARE we prepared? Our hero has a coat, hat and gloves – equipment for survival in harsh conditions. This is what the safety professionals call PPE – personal protective equipment. PPE guards and protects your physical health. Is our emotional and mental health likewise well guarded?
Our hero has things to hand – matches, a knife, a torch perhaps – as do I when I go camping. But how easily are those things to hand? Can you lay hands on your torch or your knife or your matches when you need them? In the dark, for example? That’s the difference between a good and bad experience of camping – but in the situation our hero finds himself, it could mean the difference between life or death.
Our hero has mental and emotional strength. He is not above weakness, and we see it in the film, but it is this inner strength that carries him through in the end, not his winter clothing or his tools, or even his physical stamina or his knowledge, though that all helps.
This was as moving a short film as ever I’ve watched, though I did watch it during a long-haul flight when I was very tired. It is a film about prevailing in adversity; it is a film about digging deep into ourselves, about persistence, about never, ever, ever giving up. As a piece of film-making, I found it refreshingly understated – much of the pain and much of the pushing through the pain, was implicit and off-camera.
It is of necessity a human story. One reads in the introduction to Nicholas Monserrat’s classic war novel “The Cruel Sea” – another deeply human story – that the sea itself is a character in the tale. Not here: the Arctic is merely the setting for this human story. The other day I read one of those opinion pieces in a left-wing newspaper where the author argues that the human race is a two legged plague” on our planet, and that the human race is inherently A Bad Thing. Expressing myself without use of coarse language, it is a view I profoundly disagree with. It is the most ungodly view imaginable.
This film shows the opposite, that individual people, men and women, do matter, they are of worth, they are all potentially capable of true greatness. One man carries a gravely injured woman hundreds of miles to save her life, at grave risk to his own life. To do so he has to dig deep into himself, into a part of himself he perhaps did not even know existed. He has to confront his own selfishness, and conquer it. I was especially moved by two scenes; one, where he defends himself and the injured woman from a hungry polar bear, and then breaks down in tears of stress and exhaustion once the bear has been scared off. The other, is when he thinks the woman has died, or is about to die, and he composes himself to abandon her – but she was not dead, and he was mortified with himself that he ever thought to abandon her.
People matter: individuals matter. We are immensely capable, very important and inherently able to do great, noble things. Evil does exist, of course, and we must confront it in ourselves – we find it most of all, I think, in selfishness, in the belief in the primacy of MY NEEDS. At one level, it is quite biologically natural to put OUR NEEDS ahead of everyone else’s needs, MY needs ahead of yours. But in a healthy childhood the individual is shown how to subvert selfishness and self-centredness, and put others first. It keeps popping up of course, all our lives through. In some folk, more strongly than others. And we have to keep it under control.
Here in “Arctic” our hero has to keep control of the urge to give up…in all cases, we can control that urge. We can persist, and achieve remarkable, incredible greatness. But do we? We can.