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Atanarjuat:The Fast Runner on Eskimo - please comment below

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Film Review: Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner


Film Info



172 minutes



Directed by Zacharias Kunuk

Produced by Paul Apak Angilirq

Norman Cohn

Zacharias Kunuk

Germaine Wong

Written by Paul Apak Angilirq

Starring Natar Ungalaaq

Sylvia Ivalu

Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq

Distributed by Isuma Distributing International





Following its success at the Cannes Film Festival, where it captured the Golden Camera Prize for first-time directors, the Isuma Igloolik/NFB co-production Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner received the Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival.


Director Zacharias Kunuk has adapted an Inuit legend, which tells the story of a small community of nomadic Inuit whose lives are disrupted when an unknown shaman creates rivalries between families.


Twenty years pass. Two brothers emerge to challenge the evil order: Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. Atanarjuat wins the hand of the lovely Atuat away from the boastful son of the camp leader, Oki, who vows to get even. Oki ambushes the brothers in their sleep, killing Amaqjuaq, as Atanarjuat miraculously escapes running naked over the spring sea ice.


But can he ever escape the cycle of vengeance left behind?


Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner was written by Paul Apak Angilirq and stars Natar Ungalaaq in the title role.


Evil in the form of a mysterious, unknown shaman enters a small community of nomadic Inuit and upsets its balance and spirit of cooperation. The stranger leaves behind a lingering curse of bitterness and discord: after the camp leader Kumaglak is murdered, the new leader Sauri drives his old rival Tulimaq down through mistreatment and ridicule.


Years pass.


Power begins to change when the resentful Tulimaq has two sons - Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. As the camp's best hunters they provoke jealousy and rage in their rival, Oki, the leader's ill-tempered son.


When Atanarjuat wins away Oki's promised wife-to-be, the beautiful Atuat, in a head punching competition, Oki vows to get even.


Egged on by his intimidating father, Oki and his friends plot to murder both brothers while they sleep. Amaqjuaq is speared through their tent and killed, but Atanarjuat miraculously escapes, running naked for his life across the spring sea ice


Eluding his pursuers with supernatural help, Atanarjuat is hidden and nursed back to health by an old couple who themselves fled the evil camp years before.


After an inner struggle to reclaim his spiritual path, and with the guidance of his elder advisor, Atanarjuat learns to face both natural and supernatural enemies, and heads home to rescue his family. Will he continue the bloody cycle of revenge, or restore harmony to the community?


Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner is based on an ancient Inuit legend which takes place in the area around Igloolik.


Following the film we will have a discussion on the following topics:


Human adaptation to the environment


The role of the shaman


The organization of family


Variation in personality


The importance of the film as a document in visual anthropology



Begin your postings here . . .




[Dan McConvey dpm5@geneseo.edu 9-19]


Film: Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner on Eskimo


1. Atanarjuat is a portrayal of a legend and therefore allows the audience to see an active influence and interaction of religious forces. Instead of just hearing about the religion of the Eskimo culture, through the visual aid of film the audience is able to see the beliefs and rituals in action, including the apparitions and other paranormal features of the legend.


2. Interesting features of family power and hierarchy are revealed after Puja has sex with her husband’s brother, Amaqjuaq. Upon returning to the family, Puja first encounters Amaqjuaq’s wife and Anatarjuat’s first wife. Puja begs the two wives to forgive her for her horrible deed. They forgive her and the issue is essentially over with. When the two husbands return, the fact that the wives have forgiven Puja holds great importance and the men cannot push the issue any further because the women already have spoken.


3. The Eskimo have a rule regarding marriage, similar to the American rule that a “father’s blessing” is expected and in this case required before marriage can be pursued. Atanarjuat initially cannot marry Atuat because her father and Oki’s father, Sauri have already decided on marriage. It is interesting how deeply rooted these rules are in the Eskimo culture. After Atanarjuat is driven away and believed dead, Oki is still not able to take Atuat as his wife. Sauri says that Atanarjuat’s soul is still alive and he will therefore not allow Oki to marry Atuat. Oki, who is filled with evil, is bound by this cultural rule so much that he will kill his own father instead of going against the marriage rule.





[Jonathon Baker, jlb22@geneseo.edu, 9/18]



Film: **Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner****


1) I thought that this film provided a much larger window into Eskimo life than Nanook. While no one can dispute Nanook’s importance, the great increase in film technology lets us see the lives of the Eskimo much more clearly. Seeing their lives in color, with sound, and in their true native environment expanded a great deal on the information that the audience receives in Nanook. We see how they hunt, how they travel, how they eat, and how they interact; through both summer and winter seasons.****


2) This film also has the advantage of being made by actual Inuit, making it a view of how the Eskimo want the world to see the Eskimo, as opposed to how a white filmmaker wanted the world to see the Eskimo. There are no scenes in Atanarjuat that contain anything that is post-European contact. If anyone knows how to make a film authentic, it is people from the culture being portrayed.******


3) The storyline both engages the audience and provides additional information on how Eskimo society functions. The film probably would have been dry if there had not been the complicated storyline; an audience would not have paid as much attention to a 3-hour documentary. We see the hierarchy of their village, and how conflicts may get resolved. We also see what is acceptable in a society and what is not, and it allows us to draw comparisons to our own. The side of Eskimo society that this particular film shows us in fact, does not seem to be too different from our own in several important ways. Unkindness, murder, and adultery are unacceptable and Oki and Puja are punished by being banished from the village. The most notable difference (i.e. what struck me as the strangest) was the religious beliefs regarding the shaman and how the evil spirits were banished. How the characters speak to and get motivation form dead relatives, however is reminiscent of many mainstream films.




[Steph Aquilina sma8@geneseo.edu 9/19]


Film: Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner


I found the kinship, marriage, and political systems portrayed in this film to be very interesting. These structures are foreign to outsiders, sometimes possessing drastically different rituals – but judging by the film, they are completely understood and respected in the Inuit Eskimo culture.

1. For example, marriages are arranged through paternal kinship ties – children are promised away when young, and the only way that the decision can be reversed is through the fathers’ mutual agreement. In Atanarjuat, this consent was based on the outcome of a competitive head-punching match that was observed by members of the society. It was evident that this practice was socially acceptable because of the orderliness with which it was carried out.

2. Also, when Atanarjuat’s second wife, Puja, was caught sleeping with her brother-in-law, Amaqjuaq, she begged Atuat and Amaqjuaq’s wife for forgiveness. Essentially, their permission was necessary for her to stay in the collective household again; once they forgave her, Atuat requested that Atanarjuat let the situation be, for the good of their family.

3. Finally, I found it remarkable how Oki and Puja’s grandmother punished them for their crimes against the community. She did not want to rid them from the society, but she acknowledged that they had been acting as evil spirits, disrupting the peace of the group, and must leave. I thought this was a very powerful insight into the values of the culture. END




[Skye Naslund, sjn1@geneseo.edu 9-20-07]


Film:  Atanarjuat:  The Fast Runner

1-Having a storyline and sound helped the audience get to know the characters more and gain insight into their thoughts and feelings.  Interpreting kinship roles was much easier in this film than in Nanook. 

2-The relationship between the two wives of Atanarjuat was very interesting.  The way they share the work between themselves without getting their husband involved unless it is absolutely necessary.  This forces the women to work together and not compete for their husband's affection.  The most interesting part of their relationship was that after Puja ran away after sleeping with her brother-in-law it was her co-wife who forgave her and let her come back to the family, not her husband. 

3-One thing that sparked my interest in the film was the babies.  Because the Inuit eat meat almost exclusively, I am curious as to how babies transition from breast milk to meat.  Are there steps in between for them or does the mother chew the meat first and then give it to the child?




{Isobel Connors, icc2@geneseo.edu, 9/20}


Atanarjuat:  The Fast Runner


1. This film depicts a mythical story through which we can learn a great deal about Inuit culture.  Firstly, the film offers a look at social hierarchy and family relations.  Inuit culture is patriarchal, in which polygamy is encouraged for the sake of population growth.  With the harsh, frigid weather, survival and reproduction are key aspects of Inuit life.  I also found it interesting that, although brothers often lived and hunted together, their wives could not directly address their brother-in-laws.


2. I was surprised to see that the rabbit's foot charm came from Inuit culture.  I never thought about the origins of this tradition, although our culture has adopted this as a lucky charm.  I would be interested to learn more about the ritual that Atanarjuat performed with the rabbit's foot, when he danced around the rock.


3. I found the women's facial tattooing intriguing.  I wonder what the different designs represent and at what age the women are given the tattoos?  Perhaps it is part of a coming-of-age ceremony after their first menstruation to signify they are ready for marriage.






Shamiran Warda [sw11@geneseo.edu 9/20]


Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

1-As I was watching this film I saw myself comparing it to Nanook of the North.  So much was similar yet at the same time so much was different.  It is amazing how much impact new technology can play in creating new films.  Due to the new advanced technology, I found this movie more entertaining then the last.  The color, sound and the overall story line helped to identify the characters more in depth.  The scenes seemed to be shot well, therefore, it kept the audiences attentive and on certain scenes even on their feet, such scene as where Atanarjuat was running for his life from Oki and the other two men.

2-The religious scenes were also interesting to watch, especially at the end, where the grandmother asked Oki and Puja to leave them, due to their evil way of life.  I was actually shocked that they listened to her and left.  I kept thinking to myself that Oki was not going to listen but instead rebel against her wishes but apparently I was proved wrong at the end.  

3-The part where I was shocked the most was how fast Puja was forgiven for her actions after she slept with her brother in-law, Atanarjuat.  Here she is committing something unheard of yet they still found it in their hearts to forgive her for her actions, especially Atanarjuat’s wife Atuat, and moved on with their lives like nothing happened.




[Justin Wilmott, jmw23@geneseo.edu, 9/21]


Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner


The Fast Runner is a movie that does not move at the pace of the title, but does however deliver an incredible movie, story as well as insight into the everyday life and beliefs of the Inuit people. I do believe that the film should have been edited better.  I believe that there was too much time between he majority of the shots.  If this was done to give the idea that things move slower in the arctic, it worked it’s magic, however I felt that instead of enhancing the story, it in-turn distracted me from the film in a mood of anxiety for the ending.  However, even with the editing the way it is, this movie was a phenomenal insight into Inuit culture.  It showed us not only how they survived, but myths they believe, and insight into their religion, political structures, family structures as well as the way that the Inuit people interact with each other.  Also, the fact that the film was in color gives the audience a much greater understanding of how life in the Arctic is.  Furthermore, I think that it helped that Inuit’s made the film.  In this way there is no western civilization bias or stereotypes.




[Lanh Nguyen, ltn2@Geneseo.edu, 9/23]

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

1)Human Adaptation to the Environment: a)There were either sunglasses  or goggles for sledding that the Eskimos used for eye protection. b) wooden mallets used for pounding meat. c)walrus bones and teeth were used for decoration on the body. d) stones were also used as knives and weapons.

2) According to the shaman, Eskimos are always smiling because the spirits are always watching them. The shaman is also responsible for giving the tooth necklace to people in the village, he helps Atanarjuat outrun the three men attempting to kill him, and is considered the evil spirit in the community. **So is the third wife of Amaqjuaq the shaman who comes and upsets the life of Atanarjuat?**

3) Facial and body markings: Only seen on the women of the villages throughout the entire movie. I assumed that these were tribal markings which signified which tribe the women were apart of. After doing further research, I found this website, http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/arctic_tattoos.htm, and learned that the markings were considered tattoos. They were painted permanently on the body of women to ward off evil spirits. Appeasing their gods through sacrifice and ritual, these mariners attempted to harness their forbidding world by satisfying the spiritual entities that controlled it. Not surprisingly, tattooing became a powerful tool in these efforts: for at once the pigment was laid upon the skin, the indelible mark served as both protective shield and sacrifice to the supernatural.”

-This site has many references, the editor has many experience and history with anthropology as seen when you research his name in GoogleScholar, and he works with the Smithsonian Museum. Therefore, this website is creditable.




[Laurie Sadofsky, las22@geneseo.edu, 10/1]


Film Review: Atanarjuat: Fast Runner


1.  It is great to see an Inuit myth turned into a film because it shows the important role this particular myth and myths in general play in Inuit culture.  It has clear themes about the relevance of family and the moral, accepted ways to act in society. It also says something about the culture that the film is based around the effects of a shaman and other supernatural causes.

2.  The film is interesting since it is not an ethnographic film or documentary, but a culture’s creation of its own myth into a film.  However, the myth has a lot of value since it shows us traditional hunting methods, homes and family structure.

3. As many people have already mentioned, the relationships between the family members is worthy of analysis. Although Atanarjuat did not ask Atuat about bringing home another wife, he did not yell at her for saying that Puja was lazy, possibly questioning his judgment of her as a wife.  Atuat was also the one who allowed Puja to rejoin the family despite her infidelity. 

4. The living situation is also very different from our way of life or that of our more recent ancestors.  Most of us share our rooms with at most one other person.  In these cases, you rarely find couples sleeping in the same room. However in the film, and also in many other cultures, families sleep all together and the idea of privacy is not an issue.





cg7geneseo.edu Charlie genao


1. I think the movie was more than I expected because it was more realistic and I like the challenges that  the brothers had to go through when they were hitting themselves to prove that they were strong. The movie showed the kinship and marriage of the Inuit


2. The family structure was interesting the brothers had more than one wife but it didn't surprise me though.land when the betrayal happened the brother forgave him and I know that does not happen in my culture but the other wives were the ones who let her come back. It kind of shows how important family ties are. Their was not even grudges.


3. It must of been painful to for Atanarjuat when he ran NAKED IN THE ARTIC man I know  that I would of died on the spot. The story is a myth though but It showed the culture of the Inuit and I thought the the magic was really cool.

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