We have a “movie club” with friends, going as a group to chosen, anticipated films and returning to someone’s house afterwards for food, drink, comaraderie and conversation. Unfortunately in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, there are limited choices at the Westridge Mall Cineplex. They mostly show films for twelve year olds and younger, or undiscerning, not-so-bright adults.
Hence the jubilation when something of note comes to the local theater.
Recently we gathered in wintry weather wear to view “Revenent” – a film by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inaarritu. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate. Properly swathed in sub-zero appropriate garments, we filed into the theater only to be subjected to over two hours of on-screen frozen torment. It’s not like we wouldn’t rather have been cozily immersed in a tale set in Micronesia – palm trees, tropic breezes, southern sun. But, no. We acclimated to Cineplex temperature by slowly, and with trepidation, abandoning our scarfs and parkas.
In one notable scene, Leonardo (as trapper guide, Hugh Glass), in order to keep warm, slits open the belly of a dead horse, tugs out the guts, strips naked, and crawls inside. Having just braved the elements ourselves from the car to the movie theater, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that kind of wintry hell. And wondering why we hadn’t crawled into and clung to any heat left under the hood against the engine, instead of paying good money to have the hell of feeling frozen approximated in film.
One of the reviews for the already much lauded movie, refers to it as “a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world.” Another calls it “the secularized state of a medieval saint tormented by visions.” And critic, Roger Ebbert, concludes – “It hangs in the back of your mind like the best classic parables of man vs. nature.”
Not to be unnaturally dramatic, but I must admit that our fifth winter in Minnesota has been feeling all too much lately like a brutal hymn to the natural world and a classic parable of man vs. nature. Slogging down the drive to retrieve the morning paper. Struggling to make the daily rounds to refill the bird feeders. Scrapping ice from the INSIDE of the car windows.
How in the world did my great grandfather, Jorgen Jacob Johannesen, manage to survive his first winter in this land by digging a hole in the ground next to the bank of the Red River? I guess, better than in the belly of one of his oxen, Pope or Spot. But watching the film made me think of him.
The remains of his headstone, which I retrieved from the Hemnes
Cemetary (along with that of great-grandma Elin and their two daughters who died at much too young an age, Jorgense and Randine), now rests beneath my glorious Siberian Elm. (A cousin’s son had their weather-worm memorials re-modeled “in style” a few years ago).
Coming from the tropical beaches of the Pacific, having spent all my life immersed in trade winds, sand and surf, I find it more than a stretch of imagination to fully appreciate what great grandpa Jorgen, all the hearty northern pioneers, and even, Leonardo DiCaprio in the making of this film, must have endured.
And I suspect, just like director Inarritu’s previous film, “Birdman” (which I found creatively enchanting), “Revenent” will be snatching up numerous awards this year. So, yes. Wear your mittens and wooly scarf. But go see it.
Will we be dreaming of southerly climes this chilly Minnesota winter? Yes, of course. Will we be re-thinking this retirement re-location? I suppose not. After all, we decided we would hereafter be know as “reverse” Snow-birds and, like Jorgan Jacob Johannesen, settle down in this new land in the north.
And there is always the thrill of waiting for my great grandma Elin’s peony to bloom again in the spring. We carefully dug up a piece from the Hemnes cemetery and replanted it near the old memorial markers in our garden. This lovely old flower would never survive and live on in California. It needs the wintry chill to thrive and bloom again.
I enjoyed reading this and the structure throughout: the movie club, The Revenant & winter survival, your great grandfather & winter survival, your personal winter struggle to the touching closing and the peony, which not only survives but needs the winter.
I never understood why my ancestors got into the U.S. and said, “Now let me live somewhere with weather as miserable as our old home.” They could have gone to Florida or California or Missouri, but nooooo, MN. Cold, cold, warm for a while and then cold. And then I have to ask myself why the heck I stay here? But endure we do and thinking it somehow keeps out the riff raff. (Not that there isn’t some here.) I haven’t seen Revenant because of the bear. I learned to respect them in AK and am not interested in seeing a man vs. beast conflict like that. It’s so great to read your writing, as I can relate so much. Big hugs, friend.