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The Hunter and the Hunted: Intriguing Lead Characters in Man Vs. Nature Films

One of the best and little seen films of 2012 is The Hunter, starring Willem Dafoe and written and directed by Daniel Nettheim. The Australian film, released on DVD this coming Tuesday, July 3, is full of rich themes – the most pertinent one being man versus nature. This made me think about why characters in films involving nature are so intriguing.

Nature changes Dafoe’s character Martin David in The Hunter. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) in The Grey has a death wish before he’s forced to deal with man-eating wolves. Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) leaves a consumerist society to live in the wilderness in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. And billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) puts his bookworm knowledge of the wild to use to save his life in David Mamet’s The Edge. All of these are intriguing lead characters in man versus nature films.



In The Hunter, Martin David is a mercenary sent to Tasmania by a military biotech company to track down a believed-to-be extinct Tasmanian Tiger. He rents a room from a family who he’s put-off by at first. Martin has a tough time relating to people – he’s all about his job and the task at hand.

However throughout the film, he changes, and it’s fascinating to watch how his time spent in nature changes his view of his job, of his life, and of how he relates to people. He has an epiphany at the climatic moment and acts on it and in the end he becomes a better man.



Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is quite moving. Liam Neeson stars as John Ottway, a wolf hunter for a big oil company who’s having a life crisis. After a plane crash in the snowy mountains, he is forced to battle nature.

We learn a lot about Ottway through Voice Over in the opening where he is contemplating suicide, giving The Grey an initial artistic feel that drew me in right away. He’s basically having a nervous breakdown, evaluating the worth of his life killing animals for the sake of this corporation, and due to what we initially think is his wife leaving him.

Voice over can be risky, especially opening a film, because a writer risks telling too much without showing enough. But screenwriters Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (from which The Grey was adapted from Jeffers short story “Ghost Walker”) do a great job of matching visuals with the voice over, especially the images of Ottway’s wife.

Once the plane crashes, Ottway becomes the natural leader of the group, and the hunter becomes the hunted. Because Ottway killed wolves for a living, he studied the creature he was after. So now that Ottway and the others are out in the wild with wolves chasing them, Ottway knows their hunting habits, he knows how to keep them at bay. This makes him a fascinating character to watch and we follow him up until the climatic final battle.



In director Sean Penn’s very personal film based on a true story Into the Wild, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) gives up all his possessions and donates his $25,000 grad school savings to travel the country and eventually ends up in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless is so intriguing because he practices what he preaches.

After he graduates college, his father (William Hurt) offers to buy him a new car. He turns down the offer, because he doesn’t need one, his Datsun runs fine. Throughout the story, tidbits of Christopher’s home life growing up are revealed, and we finally learn there’s more to his story than just rejecting an American consumerist society. He’s rejecting the lies, lies told by his family, by his father, to cover up a nasty truth.

I think McCandless enjoys nature and enjoys the wilderness so much, and traveling America to get there, because he finds truth in doing so. He comes across people who are true to themselves, and who he helps discover truths they need to see for themselves, like when he helps Ron (Hal Holbrook in an Oscar nominated performance) live again.



In The Edge, written by playwright turned screenwriter/director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Redbelt), Anthony Hopkins plays Charles Morse, a billionaire bookworm who’s only read about nature and surviving in the wilderness. It seems everyone always wants something from Charles and he can never tell who his true friends really are – money has that effect.

After a plane crash with the photographer Robert Green (Alec Baldwin) who may or may not be having an affair with his gorgeous model wife Mickey (Elle Macpherson), Charles must put his theories and knowledge to use in order to survive. Age is an interesting factor between the two, watching the older, wiser Charles outsmart the younger more charming Robert. In the end though, intelligence wins and along the way, Charles is intriguing to watch.


Reese Witherspoon’s company Pacific Standard recently optioned Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild (Deadline Hollywood). After losing her mother and then a divorce, Strayed hiked 1,100 miles alone on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert though California and Oregon to Washington State. She sounds like a fascinating character so I will definitely be interested in seeing how they adapt that book, and it will be nice to see a female perspective on the theme of man vs. nature.

I have a personal interest in this subject. I’m drawn to movies where man battles nature, as I began hiking again in the mountains of California, and enjoy seeing some of California’s beautiful nature. Getting out in nature once a week is a great way to refresh and clear your mind. Hopefully I’ll never have to deal with many of the trials and tribulations these characters faced.


The Hunter – available on DVD and Blu-ray July 3
The Grey, Into the Wild, The Edge – now available on DVD and Blu-ray

Permanent link to this article: http://cinematicinspirations.com/2012/07/02/the-hunter-and-the-hunted-intriguing-lead-characters-in-man-vs-nature-films/

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