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Film / Man in the Wilderness

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Man in the Wilderness is a 1971 revisionist Western film directed by Richard C. Sarafian. Zachary Bass (Richard Harris), a scout for a fur trapping expedition on the American frontier, is mauled by a bear. To avoid delays, the other trappers leave him to die. He survives and follows his companions through the mountains, gradually growing stronger, determined to confront the people who abandoned him. As he travels, he flashes back to his troubled past, first as an orphan and later as a widower.

Man in the Wilderness contains examples of:

  • Actor IS The Title Character: "Richard Harris is the Man in the Wilderness."
  • And Starring: ...and John Huston as Captain Henry.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The bear that attacks Zach.
  • Burial at Sea: Zach flashes back to his mother dying of cholera during their voyage to America and being thrown overboard.
  • Dawn of the Wild West: The movie takes place in 1820, when much of America was mostly unexplored.
  • Disappeared Dad: Zach has never met his young son. He left on an expedition while his wife was pregnant, returned to find his wife dead and the child being raised by his grandmother, and couldn't bring himself to talk to the boy.
  • Flashback Effects: The first flashback opens with soft chimes.
  • Hunter Trapper: Most of the main characters.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Captain Henry justifies Zach's abandonment this way.
    Henry: Gentlemen, you will learn that a man is expendable. We're exploring new frontiers. We must always push on, give our lives if need be. This is more than a trapping mission. We're here to explore the new America, dig into its pagan regions, and we can't afford to fail. A man must be prepared to sacrifice.
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  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: When Captain Henry orders the barber to sew Zach up, he says, "Sir, I'm a scurgeon, not a bloody undertaker."
  • Impairment Shot: After Zach is mauled, shots from his perspective are blurred and tinged with red because of the blood running into his eyes.
  • Left for Dead: Zach is left to die in the shallow open grave the trappers dug.
  • Like a Son to Me: Captain Henry claims that he sees Zach as a son, although Zach is too closed off to see him as a father.
  • Little Stowaway: Zach stowed away on Captain Henry's ship after running away from an abusive orphanage.
  • Make Sure He's Dead: Two trappers are ordered to stay behind to shoot Zach if he isn't dead by morning, then bury him. They leave him alive because they're afraid their shot will alert the Indians riding through the area.
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  • Opening Scroll: "The year is 1820. The Captain Henry expedition has completed two years of fur trapping in the unexplored Northwest territory. Determined to reach the Missouri river before the winter snows, the trappers and their boat, towed by 22 mules, struggled through the wilderness. Once on the Missouri they could sail south to the trading posts and sell their precious cargo. What occurred on this expedition is historically true."
  • Pet the Dog: Late in his journey, Zach takes in an injured rabbit and makes a splint for its paw.
  • Self-Offense: Captain Henry sees a man coming towards the ship out of the fog. He fires his cannon, thinking it's Zach out for revenge. It's actually Lowrie, one of the men who was supposed to bury Zach.
  • Ship Out of Water: The beaver pelts are transported through the wilderness in a ship on wheels.
  • Wild Wilderness: The trappers travel hundreds of miles without encountering a settlement.
  • Zipping Up the Bodybag: Zach's dead mother is sewn into a bodybag before being thrown overboard.


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