Our fascination with a good “coming of age” story is as old as history. We’ve always been captivated by the processes involved in that passage that takes us from childhood into the realm of adult responsibilities. For the male species, the quintessential myth involves some central rite of passage full of emotion and danger. Manhood comes with a price.
The film “Alpha” encompasses one boy’s complicated journey to prove himself, primarily to his father. Part of the attraction of this well-made film stems from its setting that takes us into the misty realms of our ancient forefathers. Set in what’s only described as “Europe” 20,000 years ago, the dialog exists completely of some ancient pre-Old-English language that requires sub-titles. The expanses are wide, the camera work is beautiful, and the story is moving.
Young Keda has a sensitive side, which his mother Rho (Natassia Malthe) describes as “heart,” but his chieftain father Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) believes that somewhere deep within, Keda surely has the strength required to be a good hunter.
As soon as Keda passes the test that demonstrates his ability to carve a good flint-stone for his spear, Tau insists that he’s ready to accompany the tribal men on the annual trek to kill bison, a practice vital to the tribe’s very survival.
Hesitation in the heat of battle can be deadly, especially when you’re dealing with a herd stampeding buffalo. In the blink of an eye, a raging bison tramples Keda. To the utter horror of his father, Keda’s entanglement with the bison’s massive horns and hooves looks fatal. Then things go from bad to worse, and the animal tosses Keda into the air like a rag doll.
The next powerful scene may be one of the most memorable in the film. The brutality of the moment captured by the camera work produces a delicate balance with a ballet of movement, producing a scene that turns on the sublime. Tau is heartbroken at what appears to be the death of his son, but he grieves too soon. Forlorn, the tribe returns home.
Suffice it to say, the aerial shots have been masterminded by some CGI genius. What follows will provide the ultimate test of manhood for our young hero. The trials are relentless. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to go through them alone.
Befriended by a lone wolf that he names “Alpha,” Keda’s ultimate test and his will to survive will determine everything in his quest to reach home. In this world of 20,000 years ago, the name fits both man and wolf. Keda proves himself to be the ultimately alpha male.
Rated PG-13 for some intense peril.
Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and the Glen Rose Reporter.