Phil Konstantin's Review of "Grey Owl."

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Grey Owl

I wrote this review in July 2004.

For this newsletter, I will review the 1999 movie, "Grey Owl."

Quoting from the Apollo Guide review: Based on a true story, Grey Owl introduces us to an earnest young guide and trapper in the wilderness of 1930s Canada. Grey Owl (Pierce Brosnan) is a circumspect fellow. He says little about anything – nicely fitting the stereotype of the strong, silent North American Indian. Although he generally lives in seclusion, Grey Owl does journey to where white folks congregate, to work as a guide or perform for tourists (he’s got to make a living, after all). One of these trips nets him a beautiful female admirer, Pony (Annie Galipeau). Pony is a young Mohawk woman whose family (Graham Green, as her father) has tried to wipe out their roots. She’s curious about her background and heritage, so is inspired by the pride the blue-eyed Grey Owl (he’s a half-breed, he reports) takes in his connection with the land and his own history.

Grey Owl struggles, first to get Pony out of his life, and then to reconcile his work as a trapper with his growing concern for the fate of Canada’s dwindling beaver population. He writes articles on wilderness preservation and then a book. His career peaks with a trip overseas to Britain, where he makes a big impact. He’s on top of the world, but he remains a mysterious fellow." We learn that Grey Owl was adopted into an Ojibwa family when his parents died. His family is one of the things that he does not want to discuss.

The movie features some nice scenery and a fair amount of wildlife. Part of the focus of the movie is how Grey Owl transforms himself from a eat-what-you-hunt hunter to an environmentalist who wants to protect wildlife. The DVD version of this film features some short movies made of the real Grey Owl and his beaver friends.

The film spends some time on the trials of any culture to survive, and function, within another, larger culture. Graham Green's character says: "Pony has this 'Indian bug,' wants to live like her ancestors. You can't turn back the clock, that life's over." He wants her to go back to the big city and get an education. She wants to learn about the old ways from Grey Owl, even if he isn't Mohawk.

The movie is punctuated with lots of untranslated "native language," as the captioning calls it. It does have a somewhat authentic feel to it. Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) is the director. As a young boy, he actually attended one of Grey Owl's lectures in England. The film has more of the feel of his brother David's work. David is a naturalist, and his style has rubbed off on Richard.

You will recognize a few faces in the background. Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Saginaw Grant play old Sioux chiefs who thanks Grey Owl for his work to protect the wilderness. Floyd's character tells Grey Owl that men become what they dream, and he has dreamt well.

One of the delemas Grey Owl must face is playing a "dress- up" Indian in order to support himself. This problem becomes more pronounced as the movie progresses. I have heard many modern day people discuss this dichotomy. Many non-Indians are curious about the "old ways." So am I, for that fact. Unfortunately, this interest can become a self-fulling wish for some. Many people expect Indians to wear feathers and live in teepees, even when their tribe's "old ways" never included such activities. Grey Owl's promoters/publishers want his to adopt a war bonnet and other trinckets of different cultures, because this is what the unknowing public expects. In more that one way, Grey Owl must decide if he is the ultimate "wannabe" or a man still looking for his true self.

The real Grey Owl wrote several books and articles the were far ahead of their time regarding the protection of the environment. However, some of his character flaws blinded many people to his message.

Both Brosnan and Attenborough could be working on bigger projects. The subject matter of this movie, and the man it is based on, obviously meant something to them personally.

A exploration with any good search engine ( "Grey Owl" Canada ) will reveal LOTS of websites on this interesting, and complex person. While the movie has some flaws, it is worthwhile if for only reminding modern people of Grey Owl's environmental concerns.

You can buy a copy of this movie, or of the book, through the links below. Click on the title for information, click on "Buy" to order a copy.

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