Friday, October 15, 2010

The Donner Party

Oh, Movie Lottery, how do you magically pick double feature themes for me?
Today's theme: Crispin Glover.
In the eighteen hundreds a big ol' group of people decided to cross the mountains from Nevada into California. But there was an uncommonly wintery winter that winter, the group got lost and most of them didn't survive. Cannibalism rumours abound.
And here's a movie about that. It starts after they've all been lost for a while, some stuff happens and then it ends before the few survivors are saved.
I really hope that fifth grade teachers show this movie to their classes after they do a unit on the Donner Party. I feel like that's exactly what this movie was made for (it's rated R, but other than a couple of brief head wounds and the pukey implications of eating another person (which you've already dealt with in class if you're any sort of a decent teacher at all), I don't know why it got such a harsh rating). I felt like I should have been watching it in a darkened classroom, only half paying attention and drawing band names on my arms (which I did a lot in fifth grade).
Just out of curiosity, this movie inspired a What Would You Do? question in me:
You're a member of the Donner Party. A group of three men (they tried but failed to put together a larger search party; thanks a lot, war with Mexico) has come to rescue you, one of whom dies upon walking in the door of your makeshift cabin. One of the remaining two doesn't speak English. The third man tells you there's a stockpile of food three days away. So your group follows the two surviving rescuers. But the one who speaks English is dying of ... I don't know, being sick in the eighteen hundreds. After five days you ask him why you haven't reached the stockpile of food and he tells you he lied. There is no food, it was just the only way he could get you out of the camp and, hopefully, safely to California. Then he croaks. Your party is completely out of rations (not counting the rations one party member stole for himself and hid in his backpack). Would you:
A) eat the guy who lied to you and is already dead?
B) draw sticks to see which of your surviving companions you're going to shoot in the head so you can eat him?
I say eat the guy who's already dead. It's a lot less murderous, seeing how he died of natural causes and all. The people in the movie chose Option B. One of them even mentioned how they were all going to go to Hell for it. I cannot figure out why they didn't just eat the dead dude who lied to them.
Or, rather than draw sticks, just kill William Eddy. He stole rations from the rest of the group to keep himself alive. I got the feeling the audience was supposed to be on his side, since the movie began and ended with him, but he was my least favorite character. He was a theif and an asshole and he bossed his wife around, which does not sit well with me.
Sure, Crispin Glover's character went all Shannon Wilson Bell all over everybody's asses (if you don't get that reference, watch Cannibal! The Musical, which is a far more entertaining cannibal movie than this classroom movie day "at least it's better than doing work" thing), but at least he treated his wife with respect. He didn't treat anybody else with respect but what can you do, really?
Actually, the main problem with this movie is that it begins when it does. When the audience meets these people, they're all already at their worst. You can't care about them if you don't meet their good sides first. If the movie had started earlier the audience could decide who they liked and who they didn't and we'd have someone to stand by as they all started to unravel. In this case I was rooting for Christian Kane, Crispin Glover and Mark Boone Jr. because I like the actors and not necessarily the charactets.
Also, the guy who played William Eddy looked almost exactly like the guy who played Mark Boone Jr.'s son in law. I spent half the movie being confused why Eddy had two different wives, only one of whom he allowed to leave the campground. Took for flippin' ever to realize it was two different guys.
It got a lot less confusing after I figured that out.
One more thing: Why didn't anybody bother to put on their snowshoes? They're all struggling through the snow with snowshoes strapped to their backs but nobody ever bothers to wear the damn things!
Was the real Donner Party that stupid?

End of line.

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