Arctic: Two Alive Start Fighting for Life

“Arctic” – a movie fraught with danger, but not a tragic film, directed by Joe Penna and with the well-known Dr. Hannibal Lecter - Mads Mikkelsen – in the cast. This will be the last review in our extreme survival cycle, but not the least in adventure-as we seek as a new, interesting theme. Like this one. What do I mean? Except for many clever strategies that probably will never help me to survive in urban life, the only one – is universal. To stay consciously human even when you are in deadly danger, but still resolved to help another to stay alive.

I guess this film is more risky and captivating than dangerous. The plot covers the life at the North Pole of the experienced pilot, Overhard (Mads Mikkelsen), who crashes in a wasteland of snow. The broken parts of his plane turn into a permanent home. The protagonist eats raw fish and stores it in a hand-made refrigerator, a chamber of plastic and ice. Thus, the plot is similar to the films we’ve already talked about. Unlike the heroes who have tried to rescue themselves, the protagonist in “Arctic` takes responsibility for two: himself and an injured woman from the local police.


Thinking for Both

One day, when Overhard notices a helicopter in the sky, he starts to fire his SOS alarm flare. This time, he could be successful, and maybe a rescue team will carry him home, but stormy weather brings down the helicopter together with its crew. Only a woman survives. Overhard brings her to his plane – his home. There he treats her wounds, but only the physical ones –  the dead pilot in the helicopter was her husband, and a small son is waiting for them at home, so a huge void inside the soul is bleeding. Overhard finds a map inside the helicopter, and when he decides to leave the plane – his home – to get to the meteorology station, he pulls the woman on a sled.

In the classic plot, the confrontation between man and nature always poses a powerful contrast. However, this time the heroes are burdened with additional psychological loads. Someone always waits at home, such as a son or ill parents, or husband, or a pregnant wife. Sometimes what is waiting at home is a conscience, tormented by the ghosts of the past. This turns out to be cynical, somehow: as if the tragedy of a man who finds the devil is forced to fight the elements but is not sharp enough to do it – so the viewer needs to see why this person, in fact, should live. And all the while thinking about another person.

The film is deliberately ascetic and minimalistic, looking almost like a genre breakthrough. There are dramatic flashbacks and teary backstories, reducing the genre to its basics. The plot discloses that deep inside there is already a perfect mechanism that works effectively without drama or struggle, with the calm inner vibes that reveal the main character’s habits.


Technician Introvert

One of the most significant storylines is silent. For both Overhard and the woman it remains different, and each of them completes the other. Overhard, having lived on the Pole quite a long time, is used to cold and frozen surfaces. So, after he communicates with the first human he has seen in a long time, he feels the warmth and a measure of responsibility inside. She becomes a symbolic icon, beckoning Overhard to stay alive.

Big roaring polar bear
Big roaring polar bear

In our daily life we became full of simple things such as touches, hugs, kisses. But for our protagonist, these are all new feelings. There is an episode when he lifts the woman up to create a suitable place for her to lie, and suddenly the closeness seems like an exotic thing. Even handshakes do not seem trivial when we don’t have them. Significantly, all the episodes with warmth play out in silence, without dialogue or music in the background. Soon, the viewers realise a rare depth of feeling towards other people. At least how sincere and precious this can be.

The minimalistic plot, also, intertwines with an invisible self-recognition. Overhard decides to leave  the body of the woman half way to the meteorology station, believing she has died.But circumstances make him think and come back to check whether she has really passed away. When he returns, he finds her weak, but alive. It is a time of regrets and excuses.

From a technical standpoint, the director keeps  the action lean even in highly emotional episodes. Even when the heroes have lost hope and faith, suggesting they must be neurotic, Penna films that moment in archaic calmness. We could take it from two perspectives: from the first one – it’s a gap to rethink our own reactions, and from the second – to continue the general action of the film. We have already analysed five similar movies, but yes, this one is outstanding. At least, it provides a quieter rethinking of the plot and brings real excitement as the actors perform.  Mads shows another facet of his talent in this film.He plays a character who is both weak  and strong, calm and emotional at the same time. It is he whose actor’s style is absolutely different from the extreme genre we normally see.

So, the breadth of the director’s talents and points of view give us a chance to realise the perspectives of extreme survival as many people experience it. Even those who are or pretend to be trapped in it.

And next, to sum up this extraordinary topic, we are going to Mars – and what version of extreme surviving, do you imagine, is waiting for us in outer space?

Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

More reviews here:

 “All Is Lost”: Survival in Extreme Conditions


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