“The Snow Walker ” is a tale of adventure and survival. A story about how the main characters are going to survive in Northern Territories of Canada after a plane crash. Set in the 1950s, it features an arrogant white pilot, Charlie Halliday, who was bribed with walrus tusks into taking a sick Inuit girl to a big city hospital. He is an ignorant racist. At the opening scene of the movie, we can see how he scoffed at being called “Brother” by an Inuit. He is sexist and fancy of himself as a man’s man. We get the sense that his “girl in every port” lifestyle is driven by a “you only live once” attitude. But things change in a crisis.
Problem with an aircraft engine, force Charlie to make a crash landing only yards from the shore of a lake. Luckily both of them unharmed during the crash. The radio is broken, crash place unknown to others as he made derivation from the original route. He sees this mysterious native woman as savage whose present is a heavy burden for him. Furthermore, they cannot speak each other’s language. Kanaalaq knows a little bit of English whilst Charlie is not familiar with Inuktitut. Also, he has a penchant for screaming at inanimate objects, his angry tirade against his own plane and to the radio when he can’t fix it.
Charlie thinks he can survive on his own in the wilderness. Leaving her alone in the crash scene by promising the woman will return soon with help and foolishly decides to go on foot long way alone. But quickly discovers that he’ll have to rely on the Inuit girl’s knowledge and skills if he is to survive the mosquitoes, the swamps, and the snow without dying of exposure or starvation.
When he is awakened by swarms of gigantic horseflies and mosquitoes which make him seek safety in flight over jagged rocks till falling down and become unconscious. It is Inuit woman’s patient care healed him, nursed his wounds and bites with herbs.
Only after all this, he bothers to ask her name. He starts to communicate with this native woman in a sense he has never done with anyone. By the time he realized that how she is glorious inside and respects her as a little sister. He appreciates her for everything she does. Charlie grows as a mature person we are watching a transformation happens in his character as he learns not only how to survive, but how to love.
This love built on self-sacrifice and total self-gift. It is a love that Kanaalaq almost innately possesses, as she selflessly and wordlessly feeds, clothes, and heals her companion, no questions asked. Later in the film, these qualities come to the fore as she shares the story of how her mother left her starving family so that her children could have her share of food and how she herself bit her own wrist to let her dying sister drink her blood. Kanaalaq laughs as she tells this last bit, marvelling at how she “tricked” Tarqeq, the moon god, by saving her sister’s life. 1
When Charlie and Kanaalaq find a wrecked plane containing a partly burn corpse but also a trove of tools and weapons, he does not understand, at first, why Kanaalaq refuses to go near any of the dead man’s belongings. Instead, she builds a funeral cairn for the body and buries his tools with him. Later Charlie begins to see that people and objects have more meaning. Kanaalaq’s self-giving love extends even to the dead. She is willing to sacrifice a chance for survival to ensure that the unfamiliar dead man will be safe in the afterlife.
When everyone presumes that Charlie is dead and his boss holds a funeral service for him. We hear a mourning speech, the loss of a life cut short in its prime. We can see that this speech is not for Charlie. It is for Kanaalaq and the words become a voice-over for scenes of the dying girl coughing up blood and being carried by Charlie across the snow.
It is clear that contact with Kanaalaq incredibly altered Charlie. Kanaalaq’s patient love gives him the chance, be able to break out of his selfishness and learn how to love. The fundamental fact of his change is when he willingly leaves his ivory tusks into her empty funeral grave. The price was paid by Kanaalaq’s family to Charlie as safe passage to bid city hospital in order to save her life.
The grave is empty because Kanaalaq like her mother leaves Charlie at the midnight. She does not want to be a burden to him. His journey through the deepening winter might be easier without caring of a dying woman. Charlie feels a great grief for Kanaalaq. He got another lesson from her, not only how to love, but how to let himself be loved.
In the opening scenes of the film, Charlie is celebrating his birthday. His girlfriend tries to give him a gift, which he postpones opening because he is eager for sex. We never do find out what was in the gift. Charlie is called away to work before he could open it. He departs on his fateful voyage without saying goodbye to his girlfriend. When Charlie is believed to be dead, we watch as his room is cleaned out and the unopened gift swept into a cardboard box.
1 St. Gregory of Nyssa’s ransom theory of atonement, which holds that Jesus’ death “tricked” the devil and won life for the rest of mankind.