For ex-Army soldier Jeremiah Johnson (Redford), the silent, rugged mountains function as the perfect environment in which to fulfill his enigmatic goal -- total secession from the human race.
Reviewed by Marcel Meyer, Fri., July 6, 2001
D: Sydney Pollack (1972); with Robert Redford, Will Geer, Stefan Gierasch, Allyn Ann McLerie, Charles Tyner, Josh Albee.
Amidst the snowy, mystical realm of the Rocky Mountains, a tiny piece of flint often determines a man's struggle between life and the icy hereafter. Jeremiah Johnson exists in a white-washed purgatory, much like in Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire," in which a hearty flame not only works magic under a slice of venison but also offers the only semblance of color against a bitterly dark, godforsaken world. For ex-Army soldier Johnson (Redford), this silent, rugged terrain functions as the perfect environment in which to fulfill his enigmatic goal -- total secession from the human race. Equipped with a gloomy resolve and a .30-caliber rifle, Jeremiah trudges into an endless procession of thick, powdery plains, a man eager for game pelts and distance from his past. Our hero soon loses his pack mule to hypothermia, and in doing so stumbles upon one of the weightiest lessons of this captivating story -- nowhere in the world can man survive alone. As the years wash past, Jeremiah discovers the depth of this truth from a jovial hunter named Bear Claw (Geer, a dead ringer for Father Time), who works to guide Jeremiah out of his depression and into new levels of awareness. Along the way he learns about himself and about the civilization he abandoned. He starts a family, is struck by tragedy, and then becomes legend. With generous use of white-capped panoramas, director Pollack and scriptwriter John Milius transform Vardis Fisher's novel Mountain Man into a gritty, cinematic tall tale that resonates across geography, time, and the loneliest regions of the solitary heart.