Appellate Judge James A. Stewart never knew Skidoo repair could be dramatic.
"He never had opportunity to live up here and learn the lifestyle."—Stanley Njootli Sr., talking about his son.
Stanley Njootli Jr. has been homeless and on drugs, but he's finding a new life—make that an old life—in the Yukon Territory town of Old Crow, learning how to hunt, fish, and otherwise fend for himself from his father, Stanley Njootli Sr. Director Andrew Walton went to Old Crow to research a film about what drilling would do to the tiny community, but he became fascinated with this Arctic Son.
While Stanley Jr. doesn't talk much about his experiences, viewers will gradually get to know him and understand that he is changing through the movie. When we first meet him, he seems bored with life in Old Crow and frustrated with lessons in raising dogs and other necessities of the Yukon lifestyle. He swears a lot, dropping f-bombs regularly. However, his experiences are helping him develop a new outlook on life. They're also helping him communicate with his father, since both men seem to bond best through doing. We're watching two men fix a Skidoo or skin a rabbit, but there's more going on under the surface. When Stanley Jr. makes a visit to his old home in Washington state, the changes become apparent. Even though his first stop is Burger King and he does drink when visiting friends, he's not the same person. His words in an interview say this, but his demeanor shows it to be true.
In the filmmaker interview that accompanies Arctic Son, Walton says the father saw the movie as a chance to record and preserve traditional ways. What it does is show those ways as a form of healing for Stanley Jr. There are hints that Stanley Sr. might have changed his life in the same way at an earlier point; he headed north after breaking up with Stanley Jr.'s mother, and he seems to anticipate his son's reactions and responses. Living off the land preserves the men as much as it preserves their way of life. Walton's "observational style of cinematography" lends itself to profiling two men who communicate through doing.
The scenery, as you'd expect, is beautiful and, for the most part, captured well on film. There's some flaring as a fire roars, and the natural lighting—or lack thereof—makes some evening scenes too dark. There's a good folksy score. Some of the dialogue is hard to catch, since both men are soft-spoken, but subtitles go on screen whenever that happens.
The deleted scenes are interesting, mostly concentrating on Stanley Jr.'s art or the town of Old Crow itself. They could have been included in the film without trouble, but the director chose to focus more on the father and son. There's also a gallery of Stanley Jr.'s artwork. It's "crazy stuff," as he himself says at one point, but he's a good artist.
If you're watching with your own kids, there's a "family friendly" version of Arctic Son. I watched a few minutes of it; the f-bombs are bleeped out, but it still includes lesser profanities like "bastard."
Arctic Son offers glimpses of an endangered way of life, but, more than that, makes two ordinary lives into something compelling. Not guilty.
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