Today is the first official day of Winter, commonly known as the Winter Solstice. Around this time there’s a deluge of Christmas films dulling your ears on television – but what about films with Winter as a central character?
You can’t mention Winter and not have The Thing listed as John Carpenter’s 1982 horror film is still quintessential viewing. A cadre of men on an Antarctic expedition are slowly annexed by an alien being. Both the cramped quarters of the camp and the empty snowscape let you know: “You’re on your own, buddy.” Without the option of running to the authorities, the frigid environment makes it all the more unsettling when the shapeshifting alien crops up to snack on some man flesh.
Half of the hilarity of Fargo is the notion that such shenanigans can take place in the small town of Fargo, North Dakota (in contrast to the gritty urban spaces that usually house such criminality).
It also acts as an interesting companion to the other Coen Brothers film, No Country For Old Men: both showcase the same briefcase full of money driving the story, are located in opposite, equally vacant, deserts (tundra-ish Fargo and arid, cacti filled No Country). and the badge wearers in both films go home in a daze, unable to wrap their head around the emerging vileness in their small towns. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as it’s kept afloat by the trademark comedic sensibilities of the famous brothers. Just be careful with your wood chippers this season.
Touching the Void
While Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is deservedly receiving loads of critical attention for his account of Aaron Ralston’s battle with a boulder in Utah, here’s something more seasonally appropriate. Touching the Void recounts Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ icy battle with the Siula Grande mountain in Peru after Simpson breaks his leg while descending from the peak. The Winter landscape isn’t just a symbolic character, but their clear adversary as it will freeze them popsicle dead if they don’t scoot. Using interviews with Simpson and Yates, along with impressive re-enactments, the film reminds you why humans keep trying to kill nature – because it’s always trying to kill us.
Band of Brothers: “Breaking Point”
Sure, it’s not a film, but the whole series is epic enough in scope that I’m tossing it in.
War is hell, but war in the dead of Belgian winter proves the snarktastic response “When hell freezes over” a harrowing reality. Though the men of Easy Company have gone through a lot by episode 7 of the 10 part mini-series, getting shelled while hunkered down in a Winter forest sticks out from the rest of the series.
Though the it tries not to the glorify the U.S. involvement in World War II (episodes “Crossroads” and “Points” stand out), it can’t help itself. Despite the setback, the series is required viewing.
Aside from the roaming packs of cannibals who just stepped out of Mad Max land (The new amusement park for the whole family!) , the greatest obstacle to The Man and The Boy (their actual names) is the austere Winter. With the novelties of modern living reduced to dusty crypts, the duo struggle to stay warm and adequately fed as they are driven South by their frigid foe. Though the film doesn’t convey the same sense of monotony and desperation as the book, it will still make you grateful for those little things that are keeping you alive: that cheap space heater and the nearby grocery store.
Nanook of the North
Regarded as the first documentary film, the story behind the making its making overshadows the film itself: from director Robert J. Flaherty sidestepping the fact that Nanook was polygamous to putting the Inuit in danger by requesting him to hunt with a spear instead of his traditional firearm.
Though it fudges its truths, Nanook of the North is an interesting document – if for nothing else for the ways in which it showcases how filmmakers can manipulate the truth.