Volume Two, Issue 4

Walking Distance:
Wild Life in Review

Fallen Matthews

In 2011, I was wrapping up what would be the first of three arts degrees in the Maritimes. The National Film Board (NFB) site had been a staple throughout as my concentration was in film studies; I would go on to screen several features in classes and tutorials, some of which I led. As I grew up watching tons of NFB cartooned features, animation was my favourite category—which led me to land on Wild Life as I scrolled the selection.

A still from the film Wild Life

Wild Life was the latest feature by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. The warm animation and colloquial narrative dramatize the tale of an Englishman who ventures to Alberta in 1909. Synopses define him as a remittance man, a historical term for emigrants who received allowances from home to cover their living expenses. His likeness mirrors the real-life context of similar English emigrants in the early 18th century and the perspectives of Canadian citizenry to them. Historically, remittance men were often either scorned as gentry who failed to thrive in their homelands or sons with marginal inheritances who ventured to find their own fortune.

The one in Wild Life is shown to be merry. Relatives and locals alike cast him to be an awkward albeit affable aristocrat. The rustic cabin planted in endless, isolated acreage bears no resemblance to the Western idyll he describes in the letters he writes home. Prairie life takes a toll as he comes to realize he possesses less grit than gumption, and his sense of wonder declines. As he grows accustomed to the austere outlooks around him, he muses upon how life in the wilds is at odds with his pretentious etiquette. Additionally, the brush stroked animation of Wild Life further conveys the folly of the remittance man whose spirit wanes in a matter of crisp dissolves.

What strikes me about Wild Life is how it effects that no matter where one goes, the feat of cultivating some sense of home or community is not an easy one. The remittance man embodies an outsider at home and abroad. The intertitles about comets convey how emigration declines to be a statement on travel as much as pursuit. Like the comet, tumult lies ahead for those unable to conform. People hopefully, if not purposely set out to unearth happiness they believe await them in destinations. They anticipate acceptance or catharsis upon arrival. However, that is seldom the case due to the tribulations of hard labour, culture shock, and how ingroup bias inclines people to alienate newcomers.

Moreover, the end that awaits Wild Life’s remittance man discerns how people can mistake ends for beginnings. It is wealth, not righteousness or principle that affords happiness; and life is not as linear or cyclic as it’s sold. The prospects of adventure likened to journeys falter against the continuous, painful tensions which drive our departures and whose origins we’ve yet to reconcile. I don’t think I’m aimless, but I nonetheless find myself adrift; abiding authorities whose imminent defeats, I’m told, are contingent upon my present concessions to them. The terrain upon which I trudge is postmodern and neocolonial which inclines me to think that I venture not into an abyss, but to the bottom of a well wherein one is reeled in by supremacy and assimilation. And, life is defined by a remembrance of pain before relenting to a void.

Dreams in Wild Life are woven to parallel the exigencies of everyday life. The remittance man is a dreamer whose worlds coalesce. His hopes eclipse his uncertainties. I used to be hopeful too. I thought happiness was a matter of time and place; that my time would come eventually. Now, I think time and place only consolidate anguish. The landscapes of dreams, places and personages, are indistinct. They are feverish. They make us insensible to the cold. They warm us against the hollow, wintry pretensions of greed and artifice. There is always something more. It is broken. It is within. It marks us amongst others. Because this break is definitive even if to others it is unseen. Unseen, but not entirely unheard for me as my name is often misread as “fallen.” And therein, effects the falls and ensuing losses which loom: falling from grace, out of favour, out of groups; falling because perhaps I am too tame for this wild life.

Fallen Matthews: "My name is Fallen (think "Allen" with an "F" in front) Matthews. I'm a Black, Indigenous IDPhD student at Dalhousie University whose areas of concentration are film studies, psychoanalytic theory, and history. The National Film Board (NFB) has always been a fixture in my life as many of its features defined my childhood and continue to brighten my days.

"As far as writing experience goes, I've had several personal essays published on various [mostly indie] outlets; and I also write general reviews on social media, pop culture, music, and movies on my blog."

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