I have always really liked Man vs. Nature type of films. Even though they have similar premises and conclusions, it really is a raw kind of film that grips you and leaves you wondering what you would do in a similar kind of situation. Whether it was ‘The Revenant’ with Leonardo DiCaprio or ‘The Grey’ with Liam Neeson, these films highlight man’s struggle to overcome the elements, the animals, and even his own demons. Many of these ‘man v. nature’ films focus on one main lead and a small cast of supporting characters but most of the film’s runtime is about the sole main character. ‘The Edge’ is different.
In ‘The Edge’ (1997), this survival film does something else by highlighting two men who have different intentions and different backgrounds. One is a wealthy man named Charles Morse (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the other is a photography presumably who take pictures of models and is very much a person of the city who is not used to nature or wildlife. Bob Green (played by Alec Baldwin) has ulterior motives in mind but comes off as affable and friendly enough in giving Charles a gift for his birthday in the form of a hunting knife. Charles is accompanied by his beautiful wife, a model named Mickey, who Bob takes pictures of as well as Bob’s assistant, Stephen, who is also new to being in wildlife. The small group are joined by a few friends in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness to celebrate Charles’s birthday.
From the beginning of this film, you can tell that Charles is more comfortable with his intellectual pursuits than with his friends. He loves Mickey, his wife, but he understands that he is more interested in books than in people. Charles is particular obsessed with a survival book / guide that he is reading and is fascinated by the natural surroundings that he has brought the group to and the people who hunt there for bears and other wildlife.
Charles’s fondness for nature and of survival are to come in handy later on in the film and is an excellent use of foreshadowing when things go haywire later on. During this birthday celebration, the viewer can also tell that Bob while he is kind to Charles is envious of him, his life, his money, and his wife. He openly flirts with Mickey and kisses her platonically. Charles can sense this animosity and is wary of Bob’s intentions.
Part of the reason why they all have come up to the Canadian wilderness besides Charles’s birthday is to find, interview, and take photographs of a famous Alaskan Indian hunter. During their flight, as Bob and Charles make small talk, Charles blurts out of the blue to him: “How do you plan to kill me?”. Before Bob has a chance to respond, a flock of birds come out of nowhere and strike the plane’s engines and its windshield killing the pilot and causing a downward crash.
The plane crash lands in the lake and all three men (Bob, Charles, and Stephen) are all shook up but survive the crash. The pilot does not but the men quickly realize they may be stranded for a while. Charles, given his survival skills knowledge, takes charge and encourages the other two men not to panic and to learn from him. Using his encyclopedic knowledge from his memory, he is able to make a compass to plot their course forward, make a small fire, and also give them advice about how to proceed.
Charles is not perfect in his survival skills and he almost gets swallowed up by a river rapid that almost carries him away until Bob pulls him out. For most of the film, it is unclear to the viewer how the two men really feel about each other. Their survival and getting out of the wild takes first priority. This becomes even more pressing when they wander into the territory of a giant Kodiak bear who is a real ‘manhunter’ as Charles calls him.
Stephen injures himself while climbing and Bob mistakenly hangs up the blood-soaked clothes of Stephen later on at night around the fire drawing the bear to him. This costly mistake leads to the Kodiak bear tracing their scent and finding them. Instead of burying the clothes, Bob lets them hang above their campsite causing Stephen to be attacked and brutally killed by the bear. Bob and Charles barely escape and realize that if they want to survive this ordeal, they must band together to trick the bear and then kill him.
Food is also a concern for both men as they haven’t eaten anything since they crashed and will starve to death if they don’t kill the bear. This is another instance where Charles comes in handy as he is able to distract the bear while Bob goads the bear into falling into their trap. By working together as a team and using a hidden spear to impale the bear, Bob and Charles are able to kill the bear together even when they both end up wounded from the encounter.
This is a small victory in the long road to survival for both men as they are able to eat well, don bear skins, and even find a cabin where they can get supplies. However, this is not the end of their animosity or wariness of each other. Man’s most fatal enemy is not nature or animals but often his fellow man and that comes into play.
While Charles is a smart and dedicated man to have achieved his wealth and success, he may have been naïve to who Bob is and what his wife Mickey was doing with him. Bob is not a survivalist and relies on Charles to survive but with the bear vanquished and having reached a cabin with some ability to reside there for some time, does Bob need Charles anymore and will his wife Mickey miss him if he didn’t come back?
The viewer has a lot to absorb and while I don’t want to spoil the film’s ending, ‘The Edge’ is not just about survivalism, but the edge of our tolerance of one another or our shared cooperation when a woman or money or prestige comes between people. Both men are not perfect, and they gain more when they cooperate rather than try to kill one another. Bob has the negative traits of hubris, envy, and short-sightedness. He is not able to survive the woods without Charles but wonders how much he truly needs him now that they have conquered the bear. He also covets Bob’s wife and wonders if he could murder Charles and get away with it by making it look like an accident.
Charles is an avid survivalist but may be naïve about the people around him. He also knows that Mickey and Bob and other people may take advantage of him and he may not know if they truly love him for him or if it is for his wealth and influence. While Bob is a personable, fun, and outgoing, Charles is an introvert with a love for knowledge and learning. They are opposite personalities, which is why they clash at times during this film.
While being in a precarious, life-threatening situation can bring the best out of people, it can also bring the worst out of the people, which is why ‘The Edge’ is a great film. Survival films like it do not just focus on the brutal realm of the wilderness where our creature comforts and our money cannot protect us, but they can also focus on man’s cruelty to man as well as our ability to work together too. ‘The Edge’ does a good job of pointing out how we can rise to the occasion when our survival counts on it but also shows us how dark human nature can be when we feel compelled to act out of jealousy, rage, and deceit.
‘The Edge’ is a great and underrated film, which I do highly recommend. The vistas of the Canadian wilderness are brilliant shown through the cinematography. The Kodiak bear, which was played by a real bear, named Bart, does a great job of showing how terrifying and powerful a giant bear can be when it is attacking you. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are respectively some of the best actors of their generations and they do a great job of highlighting the unique personalities of their characters. You really believe the scenarios that they could find themselves in having been stranded in the wilderness for weeks. It is a believable kind of film from being able to make a fire, to finding fish in the river, to being attacked by a bear, to climbing and hiking day after day in unknown territory.
‘The Edge’ is overall a very compelling and realistic film. It does a great job of blending elements of ‘man vs. nature’, ‘man vs. animal’, and most importantly ‘man vs. man’, which is an element missing from our survival films. I would be lying if watching ‘The Edge’ didn’t make me want to buy my own survivalist guide to learn about how to survive in the wild for days or weeks. A terrifying plane crash, a boat whose engine doesn’t start, or a car engine that goes dead is enough to make anyone panic.
I believe it is important to prepare like Charles did for that kind of horrible situation and not to panic or dwell with shame. As Charles says at the beginning of the film, “Those who get lost in the woods often die of shame because they were ashamed that it happened to them.” This is an important quote of his to keep in mind. When the chips are down, you have to use your knowledge, resources, and will to survive whatever the circumstances. The best time to start preparing for that kind of occurrence is now.