Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Fast Runner
(Atanarjuat)

Not Rated

Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teen to Adult
Genre:
Drama
Length:
2 hr. 52 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Scene from “The Fast Runner”

Starring: Natar Ungalaaq, Madeline Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Pauloosie Quitalik | Directed by: Zacharias Kunuk | Produced by: Paul Apak Angilirq, Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk | Written by: Paul Apak Angilirq | Distributor: Lot 47 Films

One rarely sees epics nowadays, especially epics about the Inuit (Eskimo) people. The sub-titled film, Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner is such a movie. It’s myth, fable and docudrama all in one. Like all great mythic sagas, the film is about evil and how it works its way through a generation of people. Atanarjuat, the titular character, is a fast runner. He will need this skill to protect his life.

The plot is simple. Atanarjuat marries Atuat who was promised to Oki. Oki is unhappy about this. Later, Atanarjuat marries Oki’s sister and Atanrjuat has to run for his life. The film moves slowly but is never boring and the audience learns a lot about the Inuit culture, such as the hunting of caribou and the making of igloos.

Many Christians will not want to see the movie because this film contains nudity, witchcraft, ancestor worship and polygamy. Many Christians will object to this. They will see the externals and not give the movie a second chance. (Think of those people who don’t like the Shakespearean play Macbeth because the play features witches. Yet, the play is about how the supernatural and one’s own ambitions can be deceiving.) And so, this movie will offend people simply because of the strangeness of its culture. Many will probably declare the movie evil. It has always been difficult for North American Christian missionaries to separate culture from religion. How much, we ask ourselves, does an unChristian culture need to change in order to be truly Christian?

For starters, the characters in this film are very moral. Adultery is frowned upon, as is murder and telling lies. They are probably more moral as a community than most western communities. People share their foods with non-family members who had unsuccessful hunts. But, as in some Biblical cultures, whole families live under one tent. Would a missionary find this offensive? Especially if both brothers and their wives and kids are all sleeping naked close together? And, as in Biblical times and modern times, polygamy exists because life is difficult for a woman alone. How are the songs sung to their ancestors different from songs Americans sing about famous people long gone? (“Go Down Moses” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” for instance.) Is praising and remembering ancestors the same as asking them for help?

Like all films about cultures different from the western model, Atanarjuat celebrates the glories of culture. Modern American women, Christians, moralists, all have something they wish to change about other cultures. It’s the old idea of taking up the white man’s (or white woman’s) burden and enlightening other cultures. As I watched the film, I wondered what I would do if I were faced with a culture such as this one. What would I accept of the culture? What would I want to get rid of? The director, Zacharias Kunuk, is working on a film about the devastation Christianity brought to the Inuit people. I suspect the movie will be painfully honest and hard for some Christians to deal with.

Viewer Comments
Positive—A film worth seeing. In their struggle for existence, the lives portrayed might have been similar to those in the age of the patriarchs. But the primal (and very beautiful) conditions are combined with persons that experience all the complex interplay of good and evil of today. That is, they are fully alive and human, not caricatures of “primitives.” The entry of evil into their world was in the poorly-understood past (as is the Christian’s). The slow cancer of evil working in their society finally leads to the unthinkable.

The nobility of Atanarjuat at the end, deliberately stopping the cycle of violence by declining vengeance, was marvelous. Yet their was still a price to be paid, even though the evil had been stopped. Definitely for mature viewers, since subjects include patricide, rape (not graphic), and brief partial nudity. But a great film.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Bruce, age 56
Positive—The Fast Runner is a film that presents to the typical North American viewer a take on the lifestyles of a people often forgotten. The film, because it is filmed without the help of Hollywood’s big names and trinketry is absolutely and stunningly beautiful. My reaction to the spiritual oogie-boogie in the movie is mostly passive, and any Christian with a mind for saving the lost, both in and out of “western culture,” would see it in a like manner.

There were graphic scenes, even aside from the running nude on the ice fields, but they reflect the beauty of life as lived by a people who live by a different set of rules and principles. I left the theatre after seeing it the first time with a greater appreciation for the inuit people, their struggles, their lifestyles and the innocence that comes with their lack of technological advancement.

A truly beautiful film that I recommend to every man or woman who is not afraid or ashamed to see the God-created, naked front side of a man who can run for a long time on the ice. The story is compelling and dynamic, and the enlightenment with which the viewer leaves the showing is truly remarkable.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Erich Koroschetz, age 22