Man vs Wild

Written under the context of Canadian Cinema Seminar at Concordia University.

When you think about Vancouver, you are most likely thinking of people living amongst beautiful scenery in harmony with their natural surroundings. At least that is how the city portrays itself as can be seen in Gordon Fish’s Wild in the City produced by the National Film Board of Canada, in which a positive spin is placed on animals having to adapt to the urbanization of their once nature-filled land of Vancouver. It is this image of the city that is at the core of Trevor Juras’ film The Interior released in 2015. In this film, James attempts to leave his hectic Torontonian city life behind and escape to what he sees as the wonderful British Columbian Interior that surrounds the city of Vancouver. However, due to the conflict caused by how Vancouver treats its natural landscapes and resources, the Interior becomes a volatile place for settlers. We see how James goes against the notion of modernity for a simpler life in the forest, how he is ultimately rejected by the wilderness, and through an analysis of the city’s relationship with nature, we can see why the Interior would be so aggressive to him making it his home.

During the first quarter of the film, we see a miserable James as he autopilots his way through his days in Toronto. His life consists of health problems, a business job he hates and a girlfriend he does not seem to care for. It is safe to say that the life he leads is unfulfilling. This is a man who is fed up with the life that he lives based under the capitalism that modernity has brought forth. It is the moment in which he rejects modernity to live in the British Columbian Interior in the hopes of living a life that he feels would be carefree and relieve him of the stresses that come with living in the big city. The life that Vancouver’s media promises. It is with this move that the baggage that Vancouver carries begins to rear its head, as with the interior becoming the new setting for the story, its central themes become directly tied to it (Gasher, 106).

James is about as prepared to live in the Interior as Bill Miner is ready to enter the modern world after three decades of being imprisoned in Phillip Borsos’ film The Grey Fox which also takes place in British Columbia. Beyond their protagonists sharing similar lives in this way, the films also share this as a theme of suffering the consequences of not being able to handle or rejecting the life that modernity demands (Hutchison, 170). Bill rejects his new world by robbing trains in the same way that he would rob stagecoaches 33 years ago. However, his kind, the cowboy, is being left in the past as British Columbia moves towards the future. Therefore, the life that he knows and is equipped to deal with has quickly become outdated and he must choose to adapt or be left behind. James does the opposite of this by leaving his modern life to live that of the animals that live in the forest. As his ex-girlfriend asks, “since when do you care about nature?” which implies that he is very much out of his element in the wild. This is emphasized in the first scene in which he is in the forest as he sees a stranger’s empty cabin. He immediately breaks into it and steals their water cooler which shows that he was not even prepared to enter the forest let alone live in it.

In the same way that James rejects his modern life, the Interior rejects him for what his attempt to create a life there represents. As he pitches his tent for the first time, we hear a loud thunderclap which represents the first warning given by nature exclaiming its discontent with his intentions. It is important to note that James chooses a spot in the forest that has no trees and is relatively flat. As Nicholas Blomley writes, “There is nothing you can dominate as easily as a flat surface of a few square meters” which shows James’ settler nature as well as his plan to create a life in the Interior (Blomley, 145). The second warning comes in the form of trash. After a noise wakes James up in the middle of the night from his first sleep in the forest, he finds a torn piece of tin foil and a pair of dirty glasses laid out not far from his tent. This is the forest throwing back the litter that has polluted it due to the city’s close proximity and trespassers such as James himself. This is reflected in two scenes from Wild in the Cityin which the narrator mentions, “bears come down from the North Shore mountains to feed at the garbage dumps” as we see black bears traversing garbage-filled fields that had been deforested. In the second scene, the narrator speaks about how crows flock to the city in order to feast upon the abundance of garbage that lays there and is later thrown into the same dump that the bears traverse.

After many interactions with visions of a man stalking James in the forest and terrifying him as he sleeps, nature finally wins the battle against him as we see a slow motion sequence in which James is running wildly away from his tent. The forest has transformed itself into a black void as it consumes him. We then see a montage of very calm close-ups of water running through creeks with one of the shots showing James’ dead body hidden in the background confirming that he died at the hands of the Interior. This sequence tells a quite grim tale of the future that is in store for Vancouver. Because “Vancouver is astride a major seismic fault line in the earth’s surface” there is a high chance that the city will one day be decimated by a giant earthquake of which will make the city unlivable for most (Berelowitz, 25). In this context, the final shots of the film are implying that nature will not only win the fight and reclaim what had been taken from it by the Vancouverites but it will also thrive because of this.

This all begs the question, why would the Interior take such an aggressive stance against Vancouver? The answer is because of how Vancouver has treated its natural resources and beautiful landscapes. The institutions that control the expansion of the urban centers of Vancouver have directly targeted “the most dramatic natural landscapes” which in turn is the cause of destruction for many natural habitats (28). Thus, causing animals to flee their homes and attempt to adapt to urbanization by finding new homes in neighbourhoods and busy streets in order to survive as depicted in Wild in the City. However, the destructive hand of capitalism does not stop with destroying their habitats as it moves freely from the urban and into the commercial sector. The existence of local Pacific salmon has been under attack due to the expansive commercial salmon-farming industry who is introducing new species of salmon into the mix, which brings forth the fear of losing the specific species of salmon that are native to those waters. Putting the erasure of a species to the side, this is also directly impacting the people who eat the fish as many vendors are moving to factory farming the fish rather than catching them out in the wild. According to Berelowitz, this means that customers are eating “increasing amounts of toxins and poisonous substances” with the factory-farmed fish (31). This of course also directly impacts those Vancouverites who depend on wild fishing for their livelihood as they can’t expect them to be around for much longer under these conditions.

In sum Trevor Juras’ film, The Interior is a story about a man who is in over his head as he decides to reject modernity and live a life alone in the Interior of British Columbia where he thought he would be able to live a life free from stress and responsibilities that he faced daily living in Toronto. However, he is punished by the very same nature that he sought solace in as the forest fights against his presence. This is because James intends on creating a new life for himself amongst the wilderness which the forest takes as a threat to its existence. The wilderness feels this way because of how the powers that be in Vancouver have destroyed natural habitats in its expansion in favour of creating new urban areas. It is also because of how Vancouver treats its natural resources such as the Pacific salmon which is in danger of being eradicated as a native species in Vancouver due to overfishing. On top of this, the introduction of factory farming has potential to not only hurt the animals but the people that eat them.

Works Cited

Berelowitz, Lance. 2005. Chapter 3: In Nature’s Way; Chapter 14: Hollywood North. In Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, 25-38, 227-249. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.

Blomley, Nicholas. 2004. Chapter Five: Back to the Land; Notes. In Unsettling the City: Urban Land and the Politics of Property, 139-156, 186-188. New York: Routledge.

Gasher, Mike. 2002. Chapter 5: Locating British Columbia as a Cinematic Place; Chapter 6: Locating BC Film Production; Notes. In Hollywood North: The Feature Film Industry in British Columbia, 105-134, 135-143, 152-154. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Films Cited

Borsos, Phillip, director. The Grey Fox. Zoetrope Studios, 1982.

Fish, Gordon, director. Wild in the City. National Film Board of Canada, 1985.

Juras, Trevor, director. The Interior. Low Sky Productions, 2015.