Framing Interdisciplinarity

Wolf Totem

Last Thursday, I went for the screening of the second film in this festival – Wolf Totem. Now I was a stupid audience and just showed up to the screening without any background of the story and without knowing what to expect. And now I have a so many things I’d like to tell you about the movie.

Wolf Totem (click to watch the trailer) is set in the backdrop of the Chinese cultural revolution which I knew nothing about. It talks about the life and experiences of an urban student from Beijing, called Chen Zhen, who is sent off to live with the Mongolian herders for 2 years during which they were supposed to tutor him in Mandarin. Somehow through all the living and learning, he adopts a wolf cub and raises it. And the film talks about his relationship with the cub, the resistance he faces in trying to raise this cub, the environmental importance of having multiple species, etc. The most striking feature of this film to me was how the wolves were somehow personified and given a voice of their own, not in terms of dialogues but in way of the background scores, their expression and their daunting presence on screen.

I won’t reveal more of the plot because I think it is a film worth watching, if you haven’t already. But here are a couple of things I would like to point out, which came up in the panel discussion following the screening.

The film is based on the book by the same name and apparently is was a bestseller with millions of copies sold. It’s sad that I haven’t heard of the book but I now I do plan to get myself a copy. The panelists pointed out to us that the film script was very different from the book. The book was more raw, unforgiving and bleak whereas the film was sugar-coated to some extent and portrayed with a lot of hope. We then discussed why books could get away with being bleak and giving no hope but a visual medium like cinema worked by different rules. Do you have comments on why it is more difficult for a visual medium to get away with gory details or why film makers feel it mandatory to show hope or light at the end of the tunnel?

Another interesting aspect that came out of the discussion was the presence of this wise, all-knowing character in the film and how that was a strangely comforting thing for the audience. We discussed why, as an audience, we like watching portrayals of wise characters who always have answers to the most difficult problems of life and have a mystical aura about them. What do you think? Why is it that we like characters like Yoda and Dumbledore and Gandalf? What is it about them that’s comforting? What is it about them that’s appealing?

I like how panel discussions bring out dimensions of cinema we otherwise don’t think about or take for granted often. Do leave your comments below and tell me what you think of the points. Are you an enthusiastic cinema goer? Have you watched Wolf Totem and did you like it?

I will be back soon with another post here about the next screening.

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10 thoughts on “Wolf Totem”

  1. I will look for the film, definitely. I read the book a couple of years ago. It held my attention and taught me so much, not only about China but especially about wolves. I often felt that I should buy a copy and save it for my grandchilden, whose mother is 2nd generation Chinese. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Albert and thank you for reading the post. I think Wolf Totem is a wonderful film and certainly the book must be better. It might be a better read for older children maybe because it’s a beautiful allegory but if your daughter in law is a second generation Chinese then it is certainly worthwhile gifting this book to your grandchildren. 🙂
      It is interesting how we live in a world where we are all global citizens rather than belonging to a particular identity. 🙂

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  2. I gobble up cinema greedily and it sound wonderful to watch with so many people and then discuss the treasures! Like those long ago film festivals I attended. Once I saw Satyajit Raj sitting quietly in a cinema theatre and was thrilled! though he was smoking too much! then spoke to Gulzar once! Cinema is magic.

    Liked by 1 person

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