Stora äventyret, Det (1953)

The Great Adventure toes the line between sentimentality and superb. Not necessarily a nature documentary and not exactly a personal memoir, director Arne Sucksdorff created a hybrid drama that is either a distant cousin or direct influence on the nature documentaries of Walt Disney. The drama in The Great Adventure revolves around the a young boy’s attempt to domisticate a river otter. At first, the wily creature makes an adorable pet, but soon the boy realizes the hard work and responsibility that come with caring for another person. I say person because Sucksdorff treats all the animals in his film like characters. He does not go as far as Disney, completely anthropomorphizing the animals that live in the wooded area around the boy’s farm. Still, the owl, the bobcat, the deer and the family of foxes all play a role, some predator, some prey. Through them all, the young boy learns about life and death. Were it not for the latter, this would be all too sappy, but Sucksdorff does not shy away from the hostile side of nature. Bobcats eat other animals, farmer’s shoot foxes, otters run off to mate. In Sucksdorff’s world these are simple unpleasant truths, that both pain a child and strengthen him. I have to commend Sucksdorff for both his beautiful imagery and for the harsh realities he depicts. The entire film is obviously fabricated, its drama stitched together from a wide array of shots designed to isolate the animals and create tension when juxtaposed with one another. Even if the film is not a direct re-telling, for someone like Suckdorff who grew up around nature and who had a deep kinship with animals the truth comes through not in how he captured or constructed the action in the film, but how his young protagonist relates to the world around him. The questions remains, is this more of a nature documentary or a coming of age drama? I’d have to say it’s more enjoyable and more rewarding if you go with the latter.

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