Heisenberg Uncertainty Wolves
I cannot help wondering if, had this movie done substantially better than it did, movies like that Liam Neeson one wouldn't stop getting made. Yes, okay, the wolves in this were all tame. You can't really film with wild wolves if you want wolves to do specific things. However, the film is based on the book by Farley Mowat, who actually went off into the Arctic to observe wolves in their natural habitat. And, yes, there were people who basically told him that the wolves would kill him just for the novelty of eating something that wasn't caribou, because of course the wolves were responsible for dropping caribou populations. What he discovered was that practically everything people thought they knew about wolves was wrong. Yet despite his findings, you still get movies made where wolves are vicious killers that stalk humans and slaughter whole populations of animals they've been in balance with for thousands of years.
The main character here is called Tyler (Charles Martin Smith), for some reason, but he is doing exactly what Farley Mowat did. The government is funding a study about why caribou populations are dropping, and it involves sending a man so far from civilization that he goes by plane. Alone. Into the great Canadian wilderness. He is ridiculously ill-prepared; to my mind, this should have been done in stages so that he'd have shelter that first night in the wilderness. Certainly he didn't need crates and crates of asparagus or the bassoon. Definitely not the light bulbs, given that he didn't have a lamp, much less electricity to turn it on with. Eventually, "Tyler" begins to observe a wolf couple he dubs "George" and "Angie." He is found himself by Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq), with whom he does not share a common language but from whom he learns a great deal. For one thing, the Inuit know a lot more about wolves than the white men do.
The science of the movie is actually a bit dubious. Not all lupine researchers agree with Mowat's conclusions that wolves live on smaller mammals; quite a few insist that they do indeed mostly hunt larger animals. It's also true that Mowat was never alone out there and that the nonfictional nature of his story is in considerable doubt. I've even found evidence of a human death from an unprovoked wolf attack. Though just one. However, to me, it's perfectly obvious that the problem of dropping caribou numbers is much more likely to be caused by something new to their environment, or else how would caribou numbers have been that high in the first place? Wolves are a part of the ecosystem in every area to which they're native, and if the ecosystem is faltering, it is almost certainly due to something humans have done. Because that's what humans do. It would be counterintuitive for a species to drive its main food source to extinction, and the problem humans tend to have with that is that they can't hunt as much as they want to, which is not natural to the ecosystem.
What is also true is that humans are a social animal, and that is perhaps one of the most compelling things about this film. "Tyler" is all alone out there, even if Farley Mowat never was, unknown miles from another human and in an environment for which evolution did not prepare him. It isn't exactly easy on the wolves, either, but wolves have been bred for temperatures like that. Humans just have big brains with which to figure out other solutions. Most of the film does not feature dialogue; it is excerpts from Tyler's journals. This is a silent, vast, unfamiliar landscape. The Inuit survive here (and I'm sorry, but I hear that word in Paul Gross's voice), but Tyler is completely unprepared for it. It is so cold when he is first dropped off that his beer freezes, and that is not an environment for which humans are evolved. Yet it is also starkly beautiful, and it is not merely Tyler who is entranced by it.
I think probably the reason this movie did not do as well as it might have is that we want to see wolves as vicious killers. We want to blame them for the decrease in caribou; we do not want it to be our fault. It's funny to me that it's considered unusual, even wrong, if you don't like dogs, but it's weird if you don't fear wolves. The two are genetically indistinguishable, but it's the ones which live in our homes which are important to us, even if far, far more people are killed or injured by dogs than wolves. We don't want that to be true, just as we don't want to believe that it is those humans we know who are far more of a danger to us than strangers are. It makes us feel safer, even if we aren't actually all that safe at all. Unfortunately, wolf populations around the world are paying for our blind faith. Whether wolves live on mice or not is hardly the point. The point is that we don't want wolves to kill the animals we want to kill, even if wolves hunt in a more ecologically sound way than humans do.