Jerimiah Johnson (1972)
Beneath The Skin
Unexpectedly, a few films you watch get under your skin and nestle there for what may turn out to be a lifetime. The film Jeremiah Johnson, filmed in 1972, staring Robert Redford, and directed by Sydney Pollack was of this sort. I recall first seeing the film in a tiny, tiny art house somewhere on the west side of Los Angeles. The "screen" couldn't have been wider than 50 inches. The audience seated maybe 40 people. Despite these limitations, the screen capture was amazingly bright and clear. The audience, consisting mostly of students and teachers from UCLA were properly quiet and seemed pulled into the film to an extent that maybe rivaled my own.
I remember the audience applauded at the conclusion of the movie -- something almost unimaginable in most theaters today.
It Ought To Have Been Different
Whenever VHS video tapes became available, I bought a copy, and, over a period of years, watched the flick many times. Something about the film resonated within my psyche. I'm not going to do a movie review, as you can find this elsewhere. A short recap would include: A disenfranchised army soldier decides to make a complete break with humanity and live off his own ingenuity and tenacity up in the Rocky Mountains. Therein he meets other mountain men and a few significant others, not the least of which include a tribe of Blackfeet Indians -- who first off get along fine with Jeremiah, but after he trespasses on their sacred burial ground, they are stubbornly determined to destroy him.
Where Can I Find Bear, Beaver and Other Critters Worth Cash Money When Skinned?
The film is part action-adventure while another part is about the spiritual quest of a man seeking his place in this world.
It is this second aspect that has resonated with me throughout the years.
The film is powerful in its ability to capture individualism and isolation. The snowy peaks of Utah in contrast to a single "pilgrim" create an overwhelming sense of the sheer beauty and difficulty of attempting to survive under these conditions.
The motion picture is at times ironic, sometimes downright hilarious, sometimes tragic, sometimes exhibiting a man (who could be any of us) at the limits of his endurance. If somehow you haven't seen the movie, be sure to put it on your list because it stands head and shoulders above anything approaching its kind.
For me, the film illuminates that lonely wanderer inside all of us -- and it does so with dignity, respect and a good measure of humor.
The cinematography is spectacular. The depiction of early American Indian tribes is educational, as is the obscure existences of a handful of mountain men who attempted a sustained existence by fishing, trapping and shooting wildlife in some of the most rugged (yet beautiful) terrain that exists in North America.
A Lonely Life
Watching Jeremiah Johnson is a kind of journey. Sydney Pollock does an amazing job of blending the mythic aspects of the early west's mountain men with a factual depiction of how non-glamorous such an existence must have been.
Grasping the Role
Redford is perfectly suited to play the main role. I think he has about 30 lines in the entire film. He has to convey a variety of emotions with body language and facial expressions, and he does this amazingly well. Redford, throughout his career, always took on interesting characters, not just handsome cavaliers. This film demonstrates his seriousness as an actor and to take on roles that completely camouflage his natural handsomeness.
Lastly, the soundtrack matches the visuals and overall "feel" of the film as well as I can imagine.
This film would comfortfully fit within the top 25 favorites on my list.
Available on Blu-Ray DVD
For those who are so inclined, the film has recently become available on Blu-Ray DVD.
Lyrics to the Jerimiah Johnson Song
My source for this entry ironically came from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremiah_Johnson
Jeremiah Johnson made his way into the mountains
Bettin' on forgettin' all the troubles that he knew
The trail was wide and narrow
And the eagle or the sparrow
Showed the path he was to follow as they flew.
A mountain man's a lonely man
And he leaves a life behind
It ought to have been different, but oftimes you will find,
That the story doesn't always go that way you had in mind.
Jeremiah's story was that kind. . .
Jeremiah's story was that kind.
The way that you wander is the way that you choose,
The day that you tarry is the day that you lose.
Sunshine or thunder, a man will always wonder.
Where the fair wind blows.
An Indian says you search in vain for what you cannot find.
He says you'll find a thousand ways for runnin' down your time.
An Indian didn't scream it, he said it in a song,
And he's never been known to be wrong.
He's never been known to be wrong.