When The Fast Runner came out, I was excited to see it. It’s a movie in an Inuit language, based on an Inuit legend, so it has obscure language and obscure culture going for it simultaneously. Furthermore, I was fascinated with Greenland: I’ve been to Iceland and found it spectacularly beautiful, and heard that Greenland was even more so. And my father worked at the US base in Kangerdlusuaq for a while in the 1950s.
But as I watched the movie, I found out exactly why Greenland doesn’t have a burgeoning film industry. At the start of the movie, and through most of it, the actors are hidden inside voluminous anoraks. It was like watching a whole bunch of Kennys from South Park interacting, and the fact that the language sounds like burbly hiccups didn’t help at all. But that was not as bad as when the people went inside an igloo and took off the anoraks. Oh, the horror: crooked teeth, twisted faces, scrawny, scarred bodies–I wanted to scream at them to put those anoraks back on, for aesthetic taste. The story wasn’t appealing, either. At a certain point, the fugly hero flees (completely naked so as to appall me even more) and a couple he reaches on the other side of the frozen wastes suggests he hid under their waste pile. And when the people hunting him want to search it, the man pees on it (and on the hero) to hide the fact that there’s someone there.
Truth is, the movie was probably pretty close to traditional Inuit culture. Afterwards, I got my hands on one of Peter Freuchen’s books about Greenland in the early 20th century. The traditional life of the Inuit involved frequent starvation, hanging one’s own children to spare them the pain of death by starvation, cannibalistic dogs, psychosis, crippling snow blindness, giving birth outside in blizzards, and teeth worn to nubs by having to chew seal sinew into clothing all day long. And this was an account by a Danish man who actually loved the Inuit and Greenland, and married an Inuit woman. Personally, I think the Danes did the Inuit a great favor by colonizing Greenland and bringing with them fabulous Western conventions we don’t even realize make for a better life, like non-leather fabrics, hospitals, canned food, coffee, and snowmobiles.
And I didn’t wonder any more why it seemed (in his home movies) that my father was really happy to leave Greenland behind forever. I may yet visit Greenland someday, but I’ll be hanging with the wacky Danes and the Dane-ized natives, and take a pass on exploring the multiculturalizism-glorified Inuit culture.