Long Way North is one of those rare films, especially in animation, which analyzes the dizzying complexity of life on Earth using what John Muir called the "glacial eye." Literally and metaphorically, as it slowly focuses on a defiant young woman coming to terms with the inexorable pull of the North Pole.
The interpersonal and sociopolitical struggles motivating her northward are, of course, myriad and compelling. But yet they quickly fade into the white of the Arctic, as its majestic power to enlighten and destroy, patiently drawn by hand, become the primary concern for director Remi Chaye's protagonist, the privileged aristocrat Sasha, who heroically competes for the attention of postmodern audiences programmed for way more overload.
As such, Long Way North is a shining light in cli-fi's increasing orbit. Its meditative, metafictional exploration of power, class and ice demands that viewers sit still long enough to realize that it is not just the strong-willed Sasha, but also they who are pulled toward, and apart, by the North Pole. That it is not only her expedition to achieve resolution and salvation, but ours as well, as our own Arctic overheats beyond contemporary understanding to deliver catastrophe and revelation.
Employing Muir's glacial eye chills us enough to understand that Long Way North is, like its thankfully female lead, bravely defiant in our real-time destabilization, a mostly hand-drawn project composed for an attention-deficient marketplace whose analyses of current events are sadly constrained by the usual corporate complaints. When Chaye's film finally sails into the abstract but ominous Arctic, time indeed decelerates to a cosmological crawl, as its mundane economic, political and social hierarchies are erased like the facades they are.
That is, until the ice suddenly breaks loose. In an eyeblink, they, and we, are instead bound to a terrifying new world, fast-forwarded into survival mode, with seemingly no time left on the clock.
Earth could use much more cli-fi cinema like Long Way North, introspective and macrocosmic, and way fewer process ghouls masquerading as disaster films. To make the time to take our time and look around with our glacial eyes -- at the Real World, as it inevitably falls apart, as we hopefully come together -- shouldn't be an errant anomaly. It should be a daily strategy.
Read an interview with Long Way North director Remi Chaye at Morphizm