Self and Other

film 2 of 5

The Naked Prey

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

Fantastic. This is (Jean-Pierre) Melville-like in its singleminded focus, in the way that it’s stripped down almost unto abstraction. As the title promises Cornel Wilde, the great director/star, is stripped down as well, and at fifty-three years of age he is a marvel. There’s not really much sense that he’s vain or showing off. He’s just really cool! His plot is utter simplicity—run! How instructive and inspiring that out of this discipline and delimitation emerges a practical anthology of possibilities. Man against man, self, nature, each category explored substantially, and satisfyingly. The whole of it is contained in those amazing extreme close-ups just before all that hell breaks loose. Widescreen!

The Naked Prey is actually shockingly violent, with all of its terrifically staged battles, and then so many shocks in the margins. It’s a paradox, then, that out of all the bloodiness we get a lot of sincere and very substantial feeling. The sweet sequence with the little girl, for instance. The scene in which she revives the Wilde character is quite touching. Later, as the two of them become further acquainted, the white man makes three specific language attempts. She replies in a fourth, which he doesn’t know. They shrug and smile.

This is very significant! Especially as you compare this exchange with all those impassive/marauding/speechless movie Indians. The pursuing native group tortures (and how!), but these Africans are all individuals, from actual communities and cultures. The movie is of its time, but in the end it is actually profoundly respectful. The conclusion! That small exchange of gestures between the theretofore antagonists suddenly flips the whole movie, the whole history of colonial relations, on its head. Very highly recommended.