MovieMonday: Alpha


Here is a rare and beautiful film, most notable for its unusual setting:  Europe in the very late Stone Age.

It  concerns Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the son of a tribal chief, who joins his clansmen on a hunting journey to harvest food for the coming winter.

Initially, Keda’s mother says he is “not ready” and that he “leads with his heart, not his spear.”  His father disagrees and encourages his son with manly bromides. “Life is for the strong. It is earned, not given,” he says.

In the course of the hunt, Keda is thrown over a cliff and appears to have died.  His father and tribe leave him behind.

Then the real action begins.  Keda lives, but with an injured leg.  He sets out to find his way home through bitter cold and against the attacks of predatory hyenas, wolves, and very big cats.  Along the way he tends to an injured wolf, and the two travel together.

The cinematography in this movie is grand and beautiful, especially when seen in the IMAX format.  The story has a basic theme — the young man proving himself — that resonates very well against the unusual backdrop.

If you want to see a new film (and one that does not involve Melissa McCarthy embarrassing herself yet again, this time in a buddy detective story with raunchy Muppet costars), “Alpha” is the one to choose.


Skeptic that I am, I had doubts about the “Alpha” environment, but a little research afterward convinced me that director Albert Hughes constructed his story with great care. A few points:

The weather and scenery are accurate.  The story is set during the last ice age, when northern Europe was frozen over and the rest of the continent was treeless steppe with only grasses for vegetation.

The inhabitants of the period (technically the Upper Paleolithic) lived in tribes, had their own languages and likely charted their journeys by consulting stars and/or very early monolithic guideposts.  (Stonehenge was built 17,000 years later.)

Humans had begun to domesticate animals during the time of the story.


The part of “Alpha” that may be unnecessary is its subtitles.  The themes — family love, a young man’s struggle and growth, trust between man and wolf — are conveyed perfectly well by the very capable actors.  An authentic-looking story set 200 centuries ago with dialogue translated into perfect modern English feels a tad jarring.  It would be interesting to see the piece again without the printed words.

I don’t know what the title should have been, but the word “alpha” dates to the Phoenician period, which also is a little awkward.


The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group thinks the film should be avoided at all cost because it involves the death of bison.  “Alpha” was shot in British Columbia, home to a number of bison ranches, which cultivate animals that are butchered and sold as meat.  I don’t know whether the dead animals involved in the filming were killed just for camera shoots or were processed later for food, but it seems fair to guess that PETA would object in either case.

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