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Film / Alpha (2018)

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Alpha is a 2018 survival Thriller Adventure film set in prehistoric times directed by Allen Hughes.

Set in Ice Age Europe 20,000 B.C., it follows the adventures of a young hunter named Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who, after a hunting expedition goes awry, is left for dead by the rest of his tribe; after waking up alone in the wild, he forms a bond with a wolf that has been cast out from its pack. He eventually gives the wolf a name that translates to "Alpha" in modern English, and together they must survive the harsh, cold environment, thereby forming the first steps for the human-canine Interspecies Friendship that would last for millennia.

Watch the trailer here.

Not to be confused with films Alpha Dog or Alpha and Omega.

Alpha contains examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: A story of the very first A Boy And His Dog. The film itself tells the story of how the Interspecies Friendship of humans and canines began.
  • Agony of the Feet: Keda's ankle is dislocated and he's forced to relocate it, leaving him limping for a while afterward.
  • Androcles' Lion: Subverted. The wolf and Keda bond while he's healing it, but it's not out of gratitude. The wounds just keep the wolf from attacking him until he can tame it.
  • Animal Stampede: The cavemen hunt steppe bison by alerting them into a stampede, then directing the herd toward a canyon where they fall off the cliffs. Keda, unfortunately, gets attacked by a big bull who breaks from the herd, goring him and pushing him down the cliff as well.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted most of the time (a single arrow takes down a cave lion), but played straight as the bison can shrug off spears, to say nothing of arrows.
  • Artistic License History: Only the men go hunting, in line with the long standing but discredited idea that only paleolithic men hunted while women stayed in camp. Both male and female skeletons from this period have been found with similar injuries and buried with hunting tools.
  • Artistic License Paleontology: If the sabertooth seen in the trailer really is a Smilodon as indicated by its size, it should have a short bobcat-like tail instead of the long tiger-like one it has in the film, not to mention that none of the three species were found in Europe. Alternatively, it could be a Machairodus, which was just as large and actually did have a long tail and live in Europe - except that the last members of this genus died out during the middle Pleistocene, millennia before the film's time period of 20,000 years ago. According to the visual effects supervisor the species is a cave lion. The cave lion did inhabit Europe during this time, but didn't have those saber teeth. However, the film's cave lion was initially designed without the sabers, but they were added due to Rule of Scary.
  • Asleep for Days: Keda, after being concussed. It's what leads to him being left for dead.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: After Keda wakes up and climbs back to the ridge where he fell, he finds his funeral stone markings; realizing that this means that his tribe has left him for dead he angrily kicks the memorial down.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Or bowshot, in this case. When Alpha and the cave lion fight, Keda can't get a clear shot and releases it by accident. In the dark cave, it's not clear which animal he shot until Alpha steps into the light unharmed.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Keda starts coughing out blood during the last part of the journey due to injuries, exhaustion and the freezing temperatures.
  • Book Ends: The film starts and ends with Keda's tribe going on a hunt, but the ending features several wolves with the hunters.
  • Canine Companion: Keda and his wolf become close friends during the movie; the film itself is billed as telling the story of how the friendship between humans and canines began thousands of years ago.
  • Cats Are Mean: More predatory than mean, but a cave lion is the most threatening animal in the film.
  • Character Title: The film is named after Keda's wolf companion, who he names "Alpha".
  • Conlang: Unlike the trailer which had an English voice-over narration by Keda, the entire film is spoken on a primitive dialect that sounds close to Proto-IndoEuropean with subtitles, just like Far Cry Primal. This is an actual language created for the film, complete with different dialects for the different tribes.
  • A Crack in the Ice: Keda gets trapped beneath a frozen river and nearly drowns.
  • The Creon: Despite some Faux Shadowing that the second-in-command of Tau's hunting party is The Starscream, he prevents Tau from going on a suicidal climb down the cliff to recover the body of Tau's seemingly dead son. He tells Tau that their tribe still needs his leadership, while showing no interest in having that leadership for himself.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Averted. Alpha comes close, nearly succumbing to her wounds from the cave lion fight and actually lying down to die near the climax, but Keda gets her home in time for the tribe to save her and her pups.
  • Determinator: Keda won't let anything stop him from getting home. Not a frozen river, not deadly predators, not an avalanche falling on his head.
  • Deleted Role: In some versions of the film during its run in theaters there was an opening and closing narration from Morgan Freeman which was removed from the final product.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Alpha" doesn't just mean the lead wolf in a pack (from which Keda gets the name) but is also used to refer to something that is first i.e. the first partnership between human and canine. Or in other words, the first domestic dog.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After months of hardship and almost facing death more than once, Keda and Alpha both finally make it to the village, where the latter is healed from her wounds and gives birth to a litter of pups. A few years later, the tribe now has wolves side-by-side with the hunters, thus the dawn of the companionship between humans and canines.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Keda snapping his dislocated foot back into place between two rocks. Ouch.
  • Faux Shadow: Keda's father talk about how the alpha wolf has to be constantly on its guard since the other members of its pack will challenge its leadership at the first sign of weakness, makes it look like Tau is going to have his role as chieftain challenged at some point during the movie. But once Keda is injured, the rest of the movie focuses entirely on his journey alongside with Alpha.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The wolf and Keda meet when they're trying to kill each other, but end up befriending each other. Literally so, as they share moments in front of a bonfire at night more than once.
  • Foreshadowing: During the journey to the village, Keda and Alpha come across Alpha's pack. The black wolf comes up and starts snarling at Keda, only for Alpha to approach it. The two sniff each other, but instead of attacking, they nuzzle each other affectionately. Later on, it's revealed that the black wolf was Alpha's mate, and that Alpha is female after she gives birth to a litter of pups.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Keda is a long way from home, assuming he ever finds his way back, and there are no other humans around. It's little wonder that, in a world before domesticated animals of any kind, he grows desperate enough to befriend a wolf.
  • Headbutt of Love: Keda and his father share one, as do others before leaving on the great hunt.
  • Heinous Hyena: Clans of cave hyenas serve as adversaries to Keda and Alpha.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Keda collapses during a snowstorm when he's very close to his village, after having a helpful dream, he gathers the strength to carry himself and Alpha to the village.
  • The Homeward Journey: Keda's journey back home takes most of the film.
  • I Choose to Stay: Implied on Alpha's part. Keda gives Alpha multiple chances to return to the pack - one of which works for a brief period of time - but ultimately, Alpha always returns to Keda, giving up a mate and family in the process.
  • Injured Limb Episode: Before they can actually start on their journey, Keda and Alpha have to spend months recuperating from a dislocated ankle and a shoulder wound. It also takes them that long to start trusting each other.
  • Interspecies Adoption: The shaman/wise woman/etc. delivers Alpha's pups, lifts them up and says, "We welcome you to our tribe."
  • Made of Iron: Downplayed. Keda survives a lot of things that would kill people (falling several hundred feet and getting concussed to the point of days-long unconsciousness, falling into a flash flood, nearly drowning in icy water, etc.) but he doesn't get out entirely unscathed and is shown to be moving slower and with more difficulty because of his injuries and illness.
  • Mammoths Mean Ice Age: The film is set during the last ice age, and woolly mammoths make appearances throughout.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: Prehistoric humanity is hanging on tenterhooks, with their crude weapons being ineffective against many threats and predators snatching humans straight from the campfire with impunity, all of which gets worse when Keda is left alone. It makes the aversion with the wolf befriending Keda that much more profound.
  • Nature vs. Nurture: Keda's father tries to teach his son the importance of killing as means for survival ("take a life to give it to the tribe") but ultimately fails to instill the courage to do so into him because of Keda's own peaceful nature. When a bison hunt goes awry and Keda is left for dead and on his own against nature, he must find the courage to kill to survive. In a twist however, Keda's decision to spare an injured wolf (that he himself wounded when defending his own life from its attack) and nurse it back to health ends up giving him an invaluable partner helping his own survival on his journey back home.
  • No Antagonist: All of the human characters work together to survive, the only enemy is the unrelenting brutality of nature.
  • Noble Wolf: The wolf that forms a bond with Keda, Alpha, is quite protective of him once they bond.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Subverted, but Keda's father supposedly sees his son die in front of him, and later breaks down in tears when they perform his death rites.
    • A group of hunters from another tribe who temporarily travel with Keda, his father, and their companions is led by a man whose own son died over the past year.
  • Pale Females, Dark Males: Alpha is white-yellow, while her mate is a rather intimidating midnight black wolf.
  • Panthera Awesome: A saber-toothed cave lion is shown threatening Keda.
  • Predator Turned Protector: This is how Keda and Alpha's relationship develops, as Alpha was initially trying to kill Keda forcing him to seriously wound it in self-defense, but then he heals Alpha and in turn it becomes very protective of him.
  • Pregnant Badass: Alpha is pregnant throughout her journey, and she's well capable of taking on a cave lion.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: While there's no masculinity aspect to it, Keda's father is incredibly disappointed when Keda hesitates to kill a boar, saying that he must learn to take life so it can be given to the tribe. As he journeys, he slowly becomes more comfortable with killing as a necessity to survive.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Only after Keda and Alpha have completed the journey do we find that Alpha is a female wolf, and the reason she wouldn't walk the final leg of the journey was that she was about to give birth to a litter of pups.
  • Scenery Porn: The cinematography features gorgeous shots of the unspoiled landscape, the night sky filled with stars, and the Northern lights.
  • Shoo the Dog: Keda attempts to shoo Alpha once he recovers from his ankle injury and sets off for his journey home, but Alpha keeps following him around until he resigns to accept it.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To The Revenant, both films are survival stories set in harsh, sweeping winter landscapes about a character who's horribly injured and left for dead by his people after a hunting expedition goes wrong, and both of them fall off cliffs. Aside from the difference in their settings (prehistoric Europe vs. 18th century America), they differ in that The Revenant is the story of a father injured by a predator animal (a bear), hunting down the evil men who killed his son and abandoned him to die, while Alpha is the story of a son, injured by a prey animal (a bison), whose father reluctantly leaves his son when there's no possibility of rescue and mistakenly believes he's dead, and ultimately has No Antagonist other than the brutality of nature itself.
  • Spiritual Successor: Can be seen as one to Quest for Fire. It invokes a similar atmosphere with the prehistoric setting and the sweeping scenery, the characters use the same method of starting fire that the Ivaka used and it chronicles another major step in human development (domesticating dogs as opposed to domesticating fire). It even has a similar scene where the protagonist is trapped in a tree by predators that stick around far longer than real predators reasonably would. Even the lions seen in the film resemble the dressed up ones from its predecessor, down to the saber teeth. Given the relative time periods of both films, Alpha can even be seen as a distant future sequel.
  • Tattoo as Character Type: Keda has a tattoo of the North Star on his hand, which he uses to navigate.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Keda starts growing a mustache and slight beard as the months pass.
  • Tribal Face Paint: The humans are sometimes seen with ochre markings, such as during a ritual preceding the Great Hunt.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In the middle of a snowstorm, Keda sees a tent with a warrior outside it to give him shelter. The warrior froze to death outside and there is no food inside the tent that Keda could take.
  • You Are Better Than You Think: Played with. When Keda's parents talk about him, Keda's father tells his wife that their son is stronger than he himself thinks. Keda's father never says this outright to him, but Keda overhears it anyway. It's still deconstructed however, for his father fails to instill in him the courage to kill to survive and grows disappointed of him even though he still loves Keda as a son but what Keda's father fails to teach to him, nature itself does and Keda ultimately succeeds in surviving the long trip back home.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: At the end, it's revealed that Alpha is a female, and she gives birth to a litter of pups.

Alternative Title(s): Alpha