He is vulnerable and stoic; she needs to return to home. Wildlike’s unusual pairing makes the perfect vehicle for explaining the male calling to protect.
“Life is strange. Every so often a good man wins.” ~ Frank Dane, silent era film actor
Rene Bartlett is such a man, although he struggles to liberate a good man from a troubled soul. His self-imposed exile into the Alaskan wilderness has him withdrawing from inconsolable loss. He is vulnerable and stoic, a seasoned backpacker seeking communion with an unspoiled frontier. A loner by choice.
Brilliantly portrayed by veteran Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek; I, Robot; Flight; and Thirteen Days, portraying JFK), Rene craves wilderness separation to help him come to terms with his aching soul. He yearns for aloneness and the absolution promised by a pristine mountain tableau.
Mackenzie—a precocious runaway teenager played by up-and-comer Ella Purnell (Never Let Me Go, Maleficent, and Kick-Ass 2) —is at once intrepid and exposed. Unwilling to remain the captive of a dangerous family member in Juneau, where she has been dispatched by her struggling mother, Mackenzie becomes determined to find her own way back home to Seattle.
She sneaks from a balcony into Rene’s motel room, hiding under his bed then scrambling away as he awakens, startled. The famished girl appears again the following morning to partake of the motel’s complimentary breakfast. Once more the resolute stranger rebuffs her. Nevertheless, she seizes upon a longshot for rescue and follows the grief-stricken, middle-aged trekker into Denali National Park, uninvited, unwanted and unprepared.
For a third time, Rene repels the 14-year-old, who by then has no safe way back to civilization. So they trek into the rough country together, detached and lost in their private thoughts.
The two hikers eventually find solace and support within each other’s suffering while a majestic national park draws them closer, demonstrating that an isolating wilderness can also inspire spiritual connections between disparate persons of different backgrounds, ages, and cultures. The healing that begins there becomes further embellished by nature’s grandeur: vast glaciers, delicate mountain flowers, soaring mountain peaks and a curious grizzly bear.
Showing uncommon restraint during their wilderness hike, first by rejecting Mackenzie’s feeble come-on, Rene allows the tragic back-story of the young interloper to unfold, barely whispers around a campfire. He listens rather than lectures.
Mackenzie had been sent away from her Seattle home so her mother can enter a drug rehabilitation program. The teen has been abused by an uncle living in Juneau, played by Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker, Flight and Boardwalk Empire). She is distraught and determined to escape.
Having no children of his own, Rene nevertheless discovers some deep reservoir of insight, perhaps ancient DNA controlling noble masculine character, liberating a protector within. His astuteness about wilderness trekking broadens to understanding that he must help Mackenzie escape her uncle’s dangerous pursuit.
Wildlike, a debut film written and directed by Frank Hall Green, is a nuanced, troubling, uplifting, beautifully rendered meditation on manhood. Its themes are timeless yet firmly rooted in here-and-now. A troubled teenager being sent away by an incapable mother. A disturbed uncle who crosses the line. An older stranger who finally accepts his responsibilities when challenged to assist a vulnerable teen grappling with abuse.
Wildlike artfully reveals how any good man can contribute empathy, strength, and wisdom to unrelated children besieged with misfortunes. The movie can inspire even childless males to teach, to listen and to shoulder some of the difficult burdens of a young generation growing up in complicated times. Finally, the movie invites significant conversations between fathers and sons about sexual risks and responsibilities.
Writer and director Frank Hall Green concludes his poignant story by raising a possibility. Rene and Mackenzie have not merely and fleetingly connected in the Alaskan wilderness. Their healing relationship might continue back in Seattle—an enduring journey toward recovery together.
This award-winning film is bringing in the raves, as Examiner.com notes: “Quietly profound. Explores an emotional and physical terrain that will steal you away.”
Photo credit: Michael Seto
Video credit: YouTube/Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films