What You Need To Know:
THE FAST RUNNER opens by telling viewers that an evil spirit has overtaken an Eskimo village, leading to the murder of the chief. Years later, two brothers compete with a boy named Oki, the son of the murderer. Atanarjuat, known as the Fast Runner, defeats Oki to win the hand of Atuat. Embittered by the loss of Atuat, Oki and two of his friends years later go and kill Atanarjuat’s brother while Atanarjuat, stark naked, barely escapes. They chase him for hours across the snow. He hides with the brother of Oki’s grandmother and plots his revenge.
THE FAST RUNNER moves very slowly with long moments of eating raw flesh and walking across tundra. The cinematography and natural acting, however, leave the audience spellbound. This is compelling filmmaking and deserves the commendations it has received. The messages are not good, however. The movie shows a life of revenge. Killings take place for no reason whatsoever. Spiritism is rampant. The movie ends on a note of feigned forgiveness and exile, with the evil spirit being banished, but it is clear that this society desperately needs the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ
(PaPaPa, OOO, L, VV, SS, NNN, M) Shamanistic pagan worldview with strong elements of spiritism, revenge and magic including man drugged by eating magical rabbit, magical incantations, shamanistic service to drive out demons, demon appears and disappears, man telepathically hears cry of sister, and spirit of man’s father directs him over ice flow; four obscenities; man knifes his father in the stomach, men pound each other in combat, men tied together in combat, man chased nude over ice flow in Arctic until his feet are raw and bleeding, three men spear man while he sleeps, woman slapped, dogs kicked; depicted sex including man fornicates with second wife, scene in shadow nudity and glimpses, second wife of one brother starts fornicating with brother in law, everyone sleeps together in igloo and tent; full male nudity with everything visible for long period of time as man runs across ice, upper female nudity in brief shots while fornicating and when parka is cut off, nude little boy put into mother’s papoose; and, revenge and lots of consumption of raw animal parts.
Inuit director Zecharias Kunuk is from Igloolik, which if you look at a map of Canada is about as far away from a movie theater as you can possibly get. Therefore, it is amazing that he has made a very compelling movie in THE FAST RUNNER – so much so that it has received rave reviews.
The story opens in a tiny Eskimo village where everything is white except for the brown parkas. Even the sky is a whitish blue. One of the men is not a good hunter and is ridiculed by the clan, but he has two sons, and he knows they will grow up to be the strength of the village. There has been murder in the small village, which consists of no more than 20 people. Thus, the audience is told in the subtitled dialogue, evil has entered the village.
Years later, the two boys are grown up. They are in competition with a boy named Oki, who is the son of the murderer. Oki is betrothed to Atuat, who loves Atanarjuat, who is known as the Fast Runner. Oki and Atanarjuat fight over Atuat in a battle where one gets to hit the other as hard as he can in the head and the other gets to return the blow, until one of them falls down senseless. Atanarjuat wins and marries Atuat.
Later, Oki’s sister Puji goes hunting with Atanarjuat, seduces him and eventually becomes his second wife. She then proceeds to seduce his brother. When she is found trying to fornicate with her brother-in-law, her sister-in-law screams and Atanarjuat slaps her and kicks her out of the tent. She runs home to Oki, saying that Atanarjuat tried to kill her.
Still embittered by the loss of Atuat and emboldened by the wrong done his sister, Oki and two of his friends go to kill Atanarjuat and his brother. They succeed in killing the brother, but Atanarjuat, stark naked, escapes, and they chase him for hours across the snow. Eventually, he hides with the brother of Oki’s grandmother. While Atanarjuat recovers, he plots his revenge.
THE FAST RUNNER moves very slowly. Long moments of eating raw flesh, walking across tundra and living the Eskimo life are portrayed. Nobody is hurried in these villages. Even so, the cinematography and the naturalness of the acting, probably because they aren’t actors, leaves the audience spellbound. This is compelling filmmaking and deserves the commendations it has received.
The messages, however, are not good. People walked out of the theater saying what a wonderful life, but this was a life of revenge. Killings took place for no reason whatsoever. Spiritism was rampant. Also, the movie ends on a note of feigned forgiveness and exile, with the evil spirit being banished, but it is clear from the past that the evil will continue and that this society desperately needs the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
A similar tale about the Indians of the Amazon, THE SPIRIT OF THE RAIN FOREST, discusses how the Indians lived in a constant state of revenge and fear of each other and of the spirits of the forest, until the Gospel freed them to be able to develop morally, physically and economically.
Although it’s romantic to think of these people as noble savages, there is nothing noble about knifing your father, sleeping with your in-laws, spearing your cousin, and living in fear of evil spirits. The subtext speaks louder than the text, but perhaps our culture has drifted so far removed from a biblical framework that the critics and audiences can no longer remember the difference between right and wrong.