Tag Archives: Survival

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

IncredibleJourney

Sheila Burnford’s animal saga is a nice little story that somehow doesn’t manage to achieve greatness at any point through it’s duration. Mind you. every child should read this charming novel once in their lives, and for the most part it has managed not to age since it’s first publication in the sixties; it’s a sweetly rendered love letter to house pets and the great Canadian wilderness as well as a suitable read aloud.

Still, The Incredible Journey’ fails to be truly riveting, and I’m trying to put my finger on the reason I feel this way. The story follows an irresistible bull terrier protagonist, Bodger, and his two animal friends (a Labrador and a Siamese cat) as they brave a arduous trek across Canadian soil to find their beloved masters. There are many challenges along the way, of course, presented in episodic fashion, and Carl Burger provides lovely illustrations portraying the animals’ daunting journey.

Two film adaptations came out after the books release, a 1963 version, the more realistic one by far. and a tame Walt Disney remake in 1993, a bastardization in many ways while still remaining a relatively charming family film. People who watch the 1993 film might get a confused notion about what the book itself is about. While “Homeward Bound” (as the remake is called) applies celebrity voice actors to the animal characters, there is barely any dialogue at all in the book. The animals certainly don’t talk.

Instead of giving the animals human voices, the novel concentrates one portraying the canines and their feline companion with their animal behavior intact while still making them likable and endearing. This book is a little darker and much more serious than “Homeward Bound,” and sometimes comes off as a little frosty and distant without the voices of the animals we 90’s kids have come to expect from childrens’ entertainment.

While the book is much more mature and artistically sound, there are times when one gets a chilly vibe from the brief volume, where individual events and supporting characters aren’t focused on for more than a few pages. The main thing that supplies this book with life is the exquisite charcoal drawings, cozy and warm additions to the text.

The real strength of ‘The Incredible Journey’ is Burnford’s obvious skill writing prose as well as her ability to make the animal characters sympathetic without having them say a single word. The old bull terrier, Bodger, will win your heart with his undying loyalty and steadfast sweetness as well as his adorable love of children and particularly the unlikely bond he shares with his feline friend, Tao.

Something about this book- maybe the slim size- makes it feel a bit unsubstantial, like a sweet that you savor before it all too quickly disappears down your throat and into your stomach, leaving you hungry for more. However, it’s a book that kids and adults should like just fine and it endearing, if like the metaphorical sweetie, not quite filling.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room

Resourceful youngster Jack is the dynamic protagonist of “Room,” a compelling offering from Irish writer Emma Donoghue. The initial premise of “Room” is at once heartbreaking and luridly fascinating- 5-year-old Jack and his mother, known merely as “Ma” for the duration of the novel, are prisoners at the hands of “Old Nick,” the psycho pervert who abducted Ma when she was a freshman in college. Jack has never left the small shed where he lives with his mother and is visited nightly by old Nick. who continually violates Ma while Jack hides in the wardrobe.

Despite his potentially traumatic upbringing (he has never come into contact with another person and believes that the outside world he sees on the television is imaginary,) Jack is sustained by his Mom’s love and manages to be innocent to most of the more horrific implications of his life. He has had a troubled childhood, but possesses a soul both intrinsically healthy and capable of giving and receiving love.

The dynamics shift when Ma starts having a reason to believe that her and Jack’s lives are in danger, and in her desperation,  she calls upon Jack to help carry out a daring escape plan. “Room” is narrated by Jack, who believes in the sentience of inanimate objects. Because of this and Jack’s youth, the book is written in fragmented, often confusing phrases. If you can handle the broken English, however, “Room” is a arresting and heart-pounding piece of fiction.

Emma Donoghue has a way of making potentially horrifying subject matter beautiful rather than sleazy. “Room” reminds me of “The Lovely Bones” in that way, treating the subject with lyricism and compassion rather than ickiness and shock value. I found Jack’s voice to be mostly plausible, with very few exceptions. There were only a couple of moments where I felt he was too precocious for a young child of his situation and the prose tipped me off that it was merely an adult telling the story.

Ma’s the truly remarkable character in this novel though. Building a life for her son under horrendous circumstances could not have been an easy feat, and Ma loves the child of her abductor with an intensity and devotion that is inspirational, to say the lest (although I never expect to find myself in that kind of situation.) Only in the scene where Ma is being interviewed on the talk show does the book get a bit preachy.

Mostly, though, it is Jack’s strong and idiosyncratic voice that propels “Room” beyond general ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ fodder. Grappling with issues of motherhood and media sensationalism,  “Room” is a profound and heart-grabbing read.

Scenic Route (2013)

What originally runs the risk of being a pretentious best-friends-fighting-in-the-desert borefest turns out to be an interesting study of what happens when your best bud becomes someone you would rather not share the same universe with, let alone a beat-up pick-up truck. The two friends are not always sympathetic, but we understand their motivations and the film refuses to side with either of them.
Mitchell (Josh Duhamel, who did those two giant-robot movies by the filmmaker we all like to make fun of) and Carter (pudgy Dan Fogler, who until now primarily acted in critically-bashed comedies) are two friends driving through the desert. We don’t know exactly where they’re going, as their destination matter not to us; what we do know is that Carter’s a starving artist (some might say ‘loser’) who lives in his car and struggles to sell a novel, and Mitch is a family man with a wife and a little boy, who begrudgingly makes the rounds through an excruciatingly boring job at the office.

I won’t go into the details of how they end up stranded in the desert with nothing to eat except dry ice and jelly beans. We felt tension between the two old friends initially, now the unease explodes into full-blown hatred and disgust. This is can be a good set-up for both a thriller and a black comedy and is, mean humor runs throughout this film that makes us laugh in spite of ourselves.

In between their vicious bouts of verbal bile and outbursts, the men share their insecurities and fears. And as the boiling hot days give way to frigid nights, they become increasingly disillusioned about their chances of survival. The insights into male middle age are not always kosher or kind, but they are honest and cleverly written.

Josh Duhamel does a very good job as Mitchell; Dan Fogler sometimes falters being unsure of the balance between pathos and black comedy but still impresses, especially considering where he came from. The twist ending is a bit predictable, but still brilliantly executed. On a random side note, I wish they had gotten an obese woman to play Mitch’s wife. He talks frankly about how he has a hard time getting it up looking at her post-pregnancy body, and then she turns out to be gorgeously thin? Come on.

“Scenic Route” might be a waste of time for some people, but for those who like conversationally driven thrillers with darkly comic undertones will be more than happy to soak in the film’s subversive pleasures. The only film I can compare it to is “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds, if you like that kind of talky, tense film with an isolated setting, you will probably like this. As is, I found this a very underrated movie with a surprising cast. I hope you like it as much as I did.