I hiked McKitrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park over the Easter/Passover/Spring Holiday of Your Choice weekend. It is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Far West Texas desert mountains, with creeks and blooming cactus in the springtime, Texas madrone trees with their exotic red bark, mule deer and lazy lizards. And its share of danger.
“Keep your eyes peeled on the crags above us. Mountain lions like to lie in wait up there,” my companion instructed me. I was busy enjoying the clear blue sky, the sun after the cool morning, the shade of these strange red trees, the sound of the water as we crossed it (three times up and then three times coming down again), the feel of the air sliding magically across my face and arms, my knees complaining but performing well.
“Yes. The drought has made them bold.” I remembered the sign at the welcome center: Beware, mountain lions. I had paid it little attention as I gathered up maps and brochures and bought a walking stick made of sotol, a local cactus.
“Um, what do we do if we come across one?” My companion laughed.
“Look it in the eye. Don’t ever turn your back. Pick up a rock. Get ready to throw it.” I was appalled.
“A rock? Are you serious?” More laughter.
“You are smarter than a mountain lion. Act like it.”
What I did not tell my companion was that the thought of such enormous danger actually thrilled me. Unexpectedly. Excitingly. Yes, thrillingly. The prospect of becoming a mountain lion’s lunch was a kick in an already very “kicky” experience of nature in its toughness: hard rocky trails to follow, sweat flowing freely down my neck and back, boots that made my toes cry–and its beauty: thorny cactus with stunning yellow and red blooms, water flowing over rocks in a song of chortling freedom, a lovely deer following us hesitantly, with her almost grown young, hoping for a handout. The prospect of death (or even just danger) made life that much sweeter. And it added a frisson of chills to a hot day on the trail.
And this is why I think I understand Jindabyne.
Not in terms of its wide-ranging themes: death as a journey; the past now overcome by the present; men and women at odds, in conflict, disappointed, unsure; communities living side by side without knowing one another. These are philosophical concerns that permeate the film and I do not pretend here to be in command of them.
But I do think I know a bit about what it might have felt like to be in the mountains, faced with a discovery one did not want to find.
You are wondering: what would Stella do? Would I have tethered a body I found floating in the water to a bush and left it there (“it” there) while I went off to enjoy some fly-fishing and camaraderie? Is that what these men did? Stewart (played by Gabriel Byrne) was overcome at his discovery. He and his friends talked about what was best–keep it (her) in the river because of the heat. Tether it (her) to keep it (her) from going over the rapids. And keep fishing. But as they fished the river and experienced the beauty all around them, something changed. We see it on Stewart’s face every time he looks at the water, we see it in the flick of Rocco’s wrist as he throws out the line, we know it in the others. They are torn. But their experience of the river is heightened. They are glad to be there. They are alive, in the midst of death.
No, I would have stayed with her (not “it”) while my companion scrambled back to the park ranger’s station to report a body found in the water. I would have guarded her and kept the animals from her, protected her from predators and the possibility of moving away down the river (or, in my case, creek) and being lost to the current. I would not have wrapped her in a bedroll and made her all warm and cozy, as Claire dreams in the film. No. I would have stayed with her, simple as that. But I can understand a little better why those others who found her did what they did. They did not see the consequences of their actions. How often do we?
The Jindabyne Mega Movie Page is a pathway into this complicated and beautifully wrought film, with reviews, screenshots, posters, quotations, interviews, and more. Gabriel Byrne’s interviews about the film are especially illuminating and Lozzie’s screencaps capture the key emotional moments of the film with insight and care. Enjoy all of this and enjoy the opportunity to engage with a film that asks you to think about and experience something outside of your “normal” life, like a hike through a canyon or a fishing trip with your friends…
I think his work on this film prepared Gabriel Byrne for one of his next dramatic roles–Paul Weston in In Treatment.
What do you think about that?
Thanks to Aragarna for the promotional images and to Det. Logan for the “making of” videos!