This movie, about a young girl who defies Mongolian tradition by learning how to hunt with Golden Eagles is beautifully shot, but quickly leaves the alert viewer with the sense that this is not at all a documentary, but a slickly packaged and edited “message movie” with a tenuous connection to any sort of reality. And then the credits roll and the name “Morgan Spurlock” comes up and confirms all suspicions. Or at least adds to the mountain of circumstantial evidence.
The movie begins with Father releasing his Golden Eagle to the wild. This scene was necessary because otherwise a person (even an indigenous one) who enslaved a wild animal to hunt other animals could be problematic. This is followed by us learning about his lovely pubescent (and soon to be married, at least theoretically) daughter who wishes to be an eagle hunter, as is common among the men of the tribe’s people. (This is a nomadic tribe, or quasi-nomadic, I suppose, since they live in yurts until it’s too cold to live in yurts, at which point they switch to houses.) We then cut to the old men of the tribe advising us that, well, she can’t be an eagle hunter because, y’know, she’s a girl and girls can’t be eagle hunters. Or at least shouldn’t be eagle hunters.
Then we see her father take her to kidnap an eagle. Then she trains the eagle. Then it’s time for the eagle competition, which she not only wins, but breaks records for “fastest eagle” or something. After which we see the elders once again talking about how, well, that’s nice for tourists, but she’s not an eagle hunter till she, y’know hunts with an eagle. So we see her hunting with an eagle. Which, after three tries (the magical three of narratives), she manages to succeed at. Her eagle kills a fox and her mother will make her a jacket out of it, or something.
Rocky IV was less stagey.
Now, I don’t know. I haven’t researched this people or their customs at all. But for a documentary, this film was remarkably unenlightening. We learn literally nothing about the people this family is supposedly a member of, except that they hunt with eagles (and I’m guessing most of them don’t, in fact, hunt with eagles) and they get married young by modern standards. This is probably true, though it looks a lot less horrible than the life of the Bedouin girls. I don’t think the people were Muslim, and they certainly weren’t the sort of strict Muslim of the Bedouin but the point here is that we never find out.
Like we never find out what they do for a living. At all. Are they just…nomads? With public schools?
Like we never find out what the significance of the eagle competition is. We’re told that our heroine will be competing against 70 other eagle hunters. But how are they picked? How is it that she (and maybe her father, it’s not clear) are the sole competitors from her area? Is it just one family from every tribe? If they’re the representatives for their tribe, exactly how much pull do these village elders who say “girls can’t hunt” have?
And when she gets there, people seem more enchanted than offended by the little girl, and the judges—apparently some sort of tribal elders themselves—do most of their scoring through a subjective 1-10 scale, so given that she wins, what sort of resistance is this girl actually facing to realizing her dream? Is it close to, I don’t know, zero?
Was this whole thing just a weak excuse for you-go-girl-ism? ’cause it really seemed like a weak excuse for you-go-girl-ism.
I’m one of the few people who will actually defend Super Size Me, the “documentary” that made Spurlock famous. It is contrived, for sure, but there at least Spurlock says up front, “I am setting the rules for the game, and here they are.” You can say the rules are stupid. You can say they’re insulting (i.e., that Americans are so weak-willed that they will automatically “super-size” if a minimum wage employee suggests it). But you can’t say you don’t know what they are.
Subsequently, however, I think he discovered that your “documentaries” pack more punch if people don’t know the rules. And I feel like, in order to achieve a major feminist victory, the lede is buried. To wit: This is probably a practice few people care enough about to even get upset that a girl is doing it. Further, much like is suggested by the elders, it probably is a good selling point for tourists to have a girl do it. Just like it’s a good selling point for a documentary to have a girl do it.
Which is a shame. If it had gone that way (“Hey, this is a practice of a dying people and here’s a girl fighting to keep it alive!”) you could have had a much better—and much truer—story. At least, that’s my guess. As I said, I’ve done zero research. But I did see this movie, and it only makes its point weakly and in the most contrived way imaginable.
It is lovely, however. Lots of big, impressive landscapes, good-looking people, and truly majestic and formidable looking beasts. I would’ve loved it if it weren’t such a try-hard of a film.
The Boy felt similarly, though perhaps not as strongly. He was inclined to watch and dismiss, by-and-large.