Atanarjuat (2001) from Tuna

Atanarjuat (2001), aka The Fast Runner, is an Inuit production telling the myth of Atanarjuat, a story which includes adultery, evil spirits, murder, jealousy, and caries the important message for that culture that the family unit has to get along and live for the good of the group to survive in the tundra. As the Inuit had no written language, the story was handed down in oral tradition. When they decided to make the film, that had several elders recount their version of the myth, then wrote the story based on all the versions.

Like many indigenous people, the Inuit are largely unemployed, and have a suicide rate ten times the rate in the general population. Most of them have not learned their cultural heritage, and have lost the sense of community. This production crew is solving several problems at once. They brought in experienced film makers to train an Inuit crew, cast nothing but Inuit people, and shot the entire film in Inuit land. They carefully researched the tools, clothes, canoes and dwellings of the ancient Inuit people, taught the skills to the props and set folks, and all costumes, props and locations were created using traditional methods and materials. They made a real point to be as accurate as possible, as they were preserving Inuit cultural heritage for their own people, and educating the world.

As an example, igloos in "southern Inuit movies" not made by Inuit, are lit by a huge torch or fire in the middle of the Styrofoam igloo. Here, they used the traditional seal oil lighting, which is carefully tended small flame, in real ice igloos. In other words, everything about the production is as authentic as possible. Cast and crew lived on the tundra in harsh conditions during shooting, in traditional dwellings -- igloos in winter, and hide tents in summer.


The myth, briefly, starts with an evil shaman arriving amid the clan, killing the good ruler, and leaving a creep in his place. The father of Atanarjuat and his older brother, The Strong One, is a good man, but beset by bad luck and scorn from the leader. His two sons, however, are the hope of the clan. Atanarjuat and Atuat are in love, but Atuat has been promised to the evil son of the evil leader, Oki. Atanarjuat and his brother are better hunters than Oki, and much better liked, so Oki and his two friends have a vendetta against them. Oki's sister, Puja, decides to marry Atanarjuat, both because she is in lust with him, and because she hopes it will break up the romance between Atuat and Atanarjuat. That doesn't work, and Oki finally challenges Atanarjuat to a fight, the winner getting Atuat.


Puja, played by Lucy Tulugarjuk, shows breasts during the adultery scene, and again near the end of the film. There is very brief breast exposure from Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu)

Atanarjuat wins, and Oki swears to kill him. Early one morning, Puja screws Atanarjuat's brother, starting world war three. Atanarjuat is furious at his brother, the brother's wife is furious at her, and Puja runs home to daddy, claiming that her husband tried to kill her for no reason. Oki and his friends ambush the two brothers while they are asleep, and kill the older brother. Atanarjuat escapes naked on foot, outrunning them. He recovers, and, with the help of the dead former clan head's spirit, restores order to the clan.

End Spoilers

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1.

  • r-rated and unrated version on the same DVD

  • very brief making-of documentary and trailer

I approve of everything this native Inuit production company is trying to accomplish, and wish native American groups would follow their example and preserve their own cultures. I found it fascinating. The scenery is breathtaking, provided you like white. The DVD is only available from Canada, and is a two disk special edition, with tons of special shorts on every aspect of the production. There are several sub-title tracks, some of which give background between the actual dialogue. The closest thing I can compare it to is Quest for Fire, but, unlike quest for fire, it is 100% culturally accurate.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, BBC 4/5, Entertainment Weekly A.

  • The film was nominated for eight Genies (Canadian academy), winning six including best picture and best director.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it 7.5/10
  • It grossed a surprisingly high $3 million in the USA (56 screens)


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, B-. I think most people will be fascinated by this glimpse of a forgotten culture, and the legend itself is certainly spicy enough to keep your interest.

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