7 movies that will satisfy your urge to escape

Omicron variant, whomst?

by Douglas Greenwood
03 December 2021, 1:45pm

Depending on whether you’re a homebody or a little more restless, this will either be a good thing or fill you with fear. The feeling of solitude, escaping the world around you to spend time with your own chosen company, cut off from civilisation, sounds hugely appealing to us. And when you live in a big city, the idea of being in the middle of a forest or swimming down a deserted river seems like a far-flung ambition. So if you can’t go there right now, why not hatch a plan to run off into nature for a bit, using these movies about nature and escape to inspire you?

While many of these films expose the realities of what life is like when you confront the wilderness head on, they are also reminders of what an alternative life to the one you may live is like. After you’ve read this, jot down these movie titles, switch off your phone and retreat to a quiet place to experience the remote, eye-opening beauty of these stories.

1. The Ornithologist (2016)

Though not necessarily a film about the tranquility of life out in the sticks, the gorgeous settings of The Ornithologist will have you yearning for time spent away from other people. This 2016 queer drama, a blasphemous twist on the life of Saint Anthony of Padua, follows a birdwatcher in the rural rivers and mountains of Portugal as he studies black storks. But his peaceful trip soon turns on its head, as he gets held captive by trekkers, before falling madly in love with a deaf goat herder called Jesus. Part cutthroat romance, part cinematic paean to Portugal’s beautiful Minho River, this is a wild film that reminds you of nature’s narcotising power.

2. A River Runs Through It (1992)

We often daydream about two things in particular: the idea of living in rural America, in some fishing hut where we’re cut off from the latest Internet Discourse, and 90s Brad Pitt. In that order. Thankfully, we can ruminate upon such a life simply by watching the sweet and underseen drama A River Runs Through It, which gives us good doses of both. In this movie, shot in picturesque rural Montana, a fishing-obsessed family headed by a pastor father reckons with their strict upbringing and the expectations of their futures. Brad Pitt plays one of the brothers at its centre, but it’s the cinematography, often described as a Bob Ross painting come to life, that steals the show.

3. Whale Rider (2002)

Upon its release, Niki Caro’s sophomore film about a girl going against history and tradition was a word-of-mouth sensation, earning its lead star -- the then-13-year-old Keisha Castle Hughes -- an Oscar nomination. Whale Rider follows Keisha’s character, Paikea, whose mother and twin brother died in childbirth, leaving her an only child. When her father needs a son to assume the role of village leader after him, Paikea is eager to push back against tradition and prove she is capable of assuming that role anyway; and so ensues a gentle push towards progress. The film is brilliant based on narrative alone, but its setting -- Whangara, on New Zealand’s North Island -- is the quintessential image of serenity.

4. Grizzly Man (2005)

Anyone who has seen Grizzly Man knows this film doesn’t have a happy ending, but Werner Herzog’s miraculous documentary -- about Timothy Treadwell, a man who absconds society to live amongst bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park -- will have felt some form of envy towards its central figure. A dedicated conservationist who sought to end bear poaching, he spent his life in a tent in the park, surrounded by bears who seemed docile at first. But the tragic death of him and his then-girlfriend, mauled by the same creatures he loved, speaks volumes about the way we as humans aren’t as infallible as we think we are, and that nature and its animals can still inflict damage upon us. One to inspire you to get close to nature, but to know where the boundaries lie.

5. Free Solo (2018)

Another entry in the ‘American white men really do the wildest things’ cinematic universe is 2018’s jaw-dropping Free Solo: a film that reminds you how small we are in comparison to the world around us. The documentary, produced by National Geographic, follows thrillseeker Alex Honnold, a man who climbs large mountains and cliff sides without any gear to protect him should he fall. His biggest challenge, which the film documents, is his attempt to scale El Capitan in Yosemite, a near 1000 metre tall cliff face so iconic it graces coins in the USA. Come for the gut-wrenching sensation of maybe dropping to your death, stay for the insane views of one of America’s most beautiful national parks.

6. Captain Fantastic (2016)

Viggo Mortensen stars as the father of some wild-minded children in this moving story of a family moving into the forests of Washington state to avoid the pressures and pains of living a capitalist lifestyle. Together, they learn about our reliance and debt to nature, and rid themselves of technology, essentially going off the grid. But when their mother dies, they’ve got to step into the outside world for the first time and figure out if they’ve been starved of opportunity or shielded from danger their whole lives. For anyone who’s ever fancied locking their phone in a box and spending time with loved ones in some remote location in the middle of nowhere, this is the film that will have you yearning to take the plunge.

7. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

One of Hayao Miyazaki’s many masterpieces, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind sees the plight of Earth allegorically tackled through a sci-fi war set centuries in the future. Nausicaä is the princess of the titular Valley that sits within a toxic jungle, plagued by insects that lurk in its darkest corners. An attempt to reclaim the space by enemy powers, by way of destroying them, sees Nausicaä fight on the side of harmony and coexistence. While much of the planet is destroyed, there are scenes that involve Nausicaä swooping through the valley on her air glider, over vast, untouched rolling fields and mountains. While it might not instil you with feelings of peace or leave you with pangs for pastoral solitude, it will remind you of how beautiful nature can be, and why it’s worth protecting.

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