In THE WHITE DAWN, three sailors find their boat capsized while in the arctic hunting for polar bears and walruses. Rescued by Eskimo, the sailors are welcomed into the village and immediately notice that this world is mu... more »ch different from the society they?re used to. Daggett (Bottoms), the youngest of the group, adapts to his new style of living, while Billy (Oates) and Portigee (Gossett Jr.) have a much harder time. Without giving up hope of being rescued, they start to bring their own culture into the village, introducing the Eskimos to alcohol and gambling. The Eskimos at first tolerate this behavior, but soon after become angered.« less
"This story of three sailors marooned on the ice who were rescued and taken in by the Inuits reminded me of something I read in my cultural anthropology class in college, and was one reason I was interested in the movie. In the readings for the class I came across a statement that occasionally sailors on whaling ships in the 19th century would jump ship and go to live with the Eskimos, where, except for the rigors of arctic living, their new lives among the Inuit seemed far preferable to what they had left. Many of them took Eskimo wives and stayed the rest of their lives with their adoptive tribes. So I was interested to see how the movie might portray such a story.The three sailors in this story, however, aren't so lucky. After their good fortune of being rescued and taken in by the generous and well-meaning Eskimos, things gradually turn sour from there. In contrast to the innocent and generous-to-a-fault Eskimos, the sailors are exploitative, deceptive, and manipulative of their Inuit hosts. After stealing a canoe in an abortive and ill-fated attempt to return to civilization, they're again rescued by the Eskimos and returned to the village. Instead of learning their lesson, the three sailors begin to cause even more trouble for their new tribe. At this point it becomes clear that in the clash of the two cultures we have an unavoidable tragedy in the making, and that it's only a matter of time before something terrible happens. Then during a bout of drinking a young Eskimo girl becomes intoxicated and crawls off into the snow, where she freezes to death. That's just the beginning of the end, however, and I won't mention anything else in the way of a spoiler, so you'll have to see the movie to see how it all turns out, but the movie builds from there to the final, tragic climax.Bottoms, Oates, and Gossett are all excellent in their roles, and the Eskimo actors also did an impressive job with their parts and were very believable. There are also some memorable scenes, such as when the small Eskimo kills a huge polar bear with his spear on the ice floe. Overall, a fine flick that is all the more poignant considering the eventual destructive impact of European and U.S. civilization on the Eskimos."
Ahead of its time
A Common Man | 10/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The White Dawn is a exsquisitely filmed (shot in the Arctic) and beautifully told tale of a clash of cultures (between white men and Eskimos) in the 19th Century. I saw this in a theater when it first came out and it blew me away - especially the ending. I am originally from Alaska and this film rings true on all levels. I've had the video for years, periodically hauling it out and watching again and again. I wish they would transfer it to DVD."
A film lost in time
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 06/29/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The White Dawn was a film both ahead of and behind its time. In the early 70s a film about the fatal culture clash between three stranded whalers (Warren Oates, Lou Gosset and Timothy Bottoms) and a tribe of Inuits at the turn of the 20th Century was too early for the eco-friendly green lobby and far too late for either the hippies or the slew of early pseudo-documentary adventures like Nanook of the North and Men of Two Worlds, although a fight with a polar bear did manage to infuriate animal rights activists despite the animal being rather too-obviously unharmed. The film made barely a ripple at the box-office or with the critics before quietly disappearing and causing Paramount to cancel Philip Kaufman's intended follow-up for the studio, a Star Trek movie spin-off
Being a Kaufman film, the emphasis is on an alien, more spiritual way of life rather than high adventure as the trio of "dog-children" bring their saviors nothing but bad luck, their not necessarily hostile inability to understand and abide by a different set of cultural and moral values ultimately corrupting their hosts and ending in an uncharacteristic act of premeditated violence (the moral of the tale: never accept a pair of mittens from an Inuit). There IS a certain element of contrivance underpinning the story, most notably their conflict with a hostile travelling Shaman, but the film generally manages to avoid National Geographic voyeurism and patronising melodrama, taking its pace from the seasons and the move from hunting ground to hunting ground. Unlike The Savage Innocents and its all-too-obvious studio shooting and dubbing, it also benefits immensely from being shot entirely on location with non-professional actors.
Yet despite the strong visuals, in many ways the real star of the film is Henry Mancini's astonishingly beautiful score. A world away from the easy listening elevator musak he's now associated with, the style is closer to his lyrical score for The Molly Maguires without the melancholy, although the main theme was expanded from a piece an Inuit woman improvised on the set. Never released on record aside from a couple of extracts on Mancini compilation albums, Kaufman reused the lyrical theme for the orbiting the Earth sequence in The Right Stuff. It's a shame Paramount didn't include an isolated score on the DVD, although it does at least come with a couple of interesting featurettes and a commentary by Kaufman.
Extremely interesting tale of the acrtic
A Common Man | Austin, TX | 08/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the late 1800s three whalers are marooned in the far north. They are rescued by a migrating Eskimo community that provides them with food, shelter, and friendship. However the whalers never give up the idea of returning to their own civilization. They attempt to be rescued by stealing an Eskimo boat and their food supply for the coming winter. However they capsize and once again are rescued by the Eskimos, even after they had stolen their boat and food stores. But eventually the negative impact of the whalers upon the Eskimo reaches a climax that ends tragically. In reality the Eskimo culture has not thrived after contact with our modern civilization and they have a very high suicide incidence and excessive alcoholism rate. Perhaps this film can be looked at as a metaphor of the problems the Eskimo culture has encountered with their contact with Western culture in the modern world.The performances, photography, and music are excellent. It is a fascinating film to watch, never boring, and deeply human. Warren Oates gives a classic performance as does Timothy Bottoms and Lou Gossett. However the really surprising performances came from the Eskimos. They were natural and expressive, really excellent and couldn't be improved upon. This is a fine film and I hope you enjoy it."
A Clash of Culture to the Core
Joel D. Rudinger | Huron, Ohio, USA | 08/23/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"White Dawn is one of those rare films which is deeply rooted both in realism and mysticism. The whalers who become marooned on the artic ice are unable to comprehend the goodness of the Inuits who save them. With typical white man's arrogance and stupidity, they con the Eskimos with paltry dishonest little tricks. To be dishonest, however, is not a part of the primitive innocence of the Inuits, and they are easily duped. Worse, they are made to lose face. Tim Bottom's youthful character is closest to civilized innocence (being capable of love), but he caves to peer pressure and first steals, then deserts a starving village. But the white men are out of their element as they steal an umiat and try to row away through ice infested waters. They are again saved by the people who they have shamed. A second time they are brought back and again they show themselves unworthy to live. Tribal justice is meted out but without triumph. The people have become sad for they have lost their innocence. The folklore and folklife of the Inuits is well researched. The honestly of the directing is a high achievement. This film is exciting, and sometimes difficult, to watch as white western sensibilities are exposed. -- Joel R. Rudinger -- 1999"