The adaptation of Jack London’s highly-regarded short story To Build a Fire effectively captures the story of a man’s last frozen moments. The text and film shift from one instance of cold to the next, each more grating than the last. The man himself is focused only on the minimal requirement to be warm and live.
The film wonderfully brings this vignette from the Yukon region to life. The only company he keeps is a shaggy wolf-dog that often watches in a pitiful sense of confusion. Their relationship is a curious one; although isolated on the brink of death, the man seeks no further kinship with the dog other than the prospect of warming his hands on its belly. The dog looks on at the man with the vague realisation that he can only offer warmth and occasionally scraps of food.
The straightforward style of the film reflects that of London’s writing; the bare minimalism gives us little insight to the character, as there is little to be seen. A harrowing approach, one stripped of all humanity, but this style is entirely appropriate – between the vast planes of snow and the man’s drive to live, we need no more. Such simplicity is where the film excels.
A slow pace forces the audience to connect with the hardship onscreen. In the closing moments, the dog looks at his companion without concern for his existence, just disappointment as the man’s heat has slipped away with his constitution.
This stark tale is one that shows the frailty of people, and how they are ill-equipped to deal with anything outside their biological comfort. Finally, it presents a lack of communion between nature and ourselves, as the dog looks on coldly, searching for the next means of warmth.
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DIRECTOR: Fx Goby
WRITER: Fx Goby
ART DIRECTION: Tristan Ménard
COMPOSER: Mathieu Alvado
SYNOPSIS: In the harshness of midwinter, a trapper is crossing the Yukon with his dog. Struggling to survive, he attempts to build a simple fire.