Nanook of the North

Nanook of the North

What happens when Lumiere’s actualities start connecting shots rather than existing one-by-one, on their own. In a way Flaherty pushes even this - a significant number of sequences end up being staged, sometimes for practicality, other times to show a way of life that no longer exists. So in that sense, it is not a representation of the modernized Inuit of 1922. Of course it isn’t. Western clothing had already been introduced to Inuit culture, and rifles were being used to hunt, rather than harpoons. But that doesn’t negate the fact that these Inuit still knew how to use them - so Flaherty recreates these moments, perhaps at the expense of the truth of the moment in front of him. So it’s not a documentary, not at least, by the definition we have come to know. To our eyes of a century later, this is unethical - so this film is really, via its re-enactments, a time capsule of a time capsule. It’s interesting - in the long-term, Flaherty’s work didn’t invent the documentary, it invented the hybrid-fiction.

Only one sequence really remains offensive - the gramophone sequence, where Nanook/Allakariallak bites the record after it spins. Even as performed as removed from Western Culture, surely Nanook is smart enough to tell that a mechanical object is not edible. It’s a considerably annoying sequence - especially given how strong the rest of the film is and how intelligent and practical Nanook/Allakariallak will be shown to be. Because as the film progresses, we will see that this is a film about process with the barest of utilities.

What one remains with here is not of an ethnographical nature but rather of a philosophical one: survival in the barest of landscapes. Flaherty distinctly directed Allakariallak to hunt not as the modern Inuit would, but rather in a manner prior to European influence. What remains is almost profound - the human and nature coexisting, where the uncertainty of survival is just an everyday thing. Nanooks brilliance is that it shows us primitivism, not as a sort of alternative to Western culture (as would become so popular in the 20s and the 60s, perhaps now as well) but to bring us to the core of our being, show us the things we had to create to survive. To highlight that the core of life and being has always been struggle. But not the world pre-civilization - the world without civilization. Reality is a struggle, until it becomes pierced: then it becomes endurance. And primitivism is not an alternative, it is a starting point. Life is hard. Of course it is - that’s surviving nature, who is vicious. Progress is going beyond it. And the human being is capable of very much indeed. Long live Allakariallak/Nanook, embedded into celluloid to remind us to be vital and to endure life.

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