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Film / The Clan of the Cave Bear

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The Clan of the Cave Bear is a 1986 prehistorical drama / Speculative Fiction film. It is based upon the first book in Jean M Auel's Earth's Children series. The film follows the story of Ayla, an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl who is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals (who call themselves the Clan) and her struggle to survive amongst them.

The film stars Daryl Hannah as Ayla, Pamela Reed as Iza, James Remar as Creb and Thomas G. Waites as Broud. It was directed by Michael Chapman and the screenplay adapted by John Sayles. Alan Silvestri provided the musical score.

Tropes found here include:

  • Adaptational Badass: A downplayed example with Ayla. She's already pretty badass in the book because of her hunting and survival skills, but here she gets into a full-on physical fight with Broud and kicks his ass; in the book she ducks when he tries to hit her and delivers a verbal smackdown. The fact Ayla is a young woman here rather than fourteen as she was in the book probably helps.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Broud, though just barely seeing as he's already a terrible person in the books. In the book he eventually tries to force the elderly Creb to move out of his hearth to a less comfortable one; here he goes a step further and tries to banish him.
  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • Ayla being banished from the Clan for one month for using a weapon still occurs, but it now happens during her pregnancy with Durc, instead of before.
    • In the book Brac is attacked by a hyena, leading to Ayla developing an knee-jerk dislike of hyenas as she associates them with negative things. In the film he's instead attacked by a wolf (probably because tame wolves were easier to obtain for the filmmakers than tame hyenas).
  • Adaptation Distillation: Likely to make things simpler and shorten the run time, the circumstances surrounding Ayla saving Brac and being temporarily cursed with death for using a sling, Broud raping Ayla and Ayla's subsequent pregnancy occur in a different order, while keeping the main plot points intact. In the book Broud starts sexually assaulting Ayla after she's publicly revealed to have been using a sling and temporarily cursed (which makes him come off as even more of an asshole considering she saved his son's life). In the film the whole horrible situation with Broud occurs before Ayla saves Brac and she's already pregnant at this time. note 
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Throughout the film Ayla is depicted with pale, almost white blonde hair. In the books, she's described as having light blonde hair as a little girl but it later darkens to a golden blonde color (sometimes compared to the color of ripe hay). Other than that though, Daryl Hannah's appearance is pretty accurate to how Ayla is described in her late teens and twenties.
  • Age Lift: Ayla appears to be in her twenties, or possibly her late teens, during the second half of the movie (Daryl Hannah was about 25 during filming). In the book, she was only fourteen by the end of the novel and didn't reach her twenties until the last book. This was probably done for practical/ethical reasons, given that the book depicts Ayla being raped by Broud and giving birth to Durc when she's only eleven years old.
  • Billed Above the Title: Daryl Hannah's name is listed above the title on the poster, which also includes a close-up of her in-character as Ayla.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ayla defeats Broud in a fight and humiliates him, forcing him to allow Creb to stay with the Clan. However, Ayla must leave the Clan, including her young son; she leaves Durc in the care of Creb and Uba before setting out to find her own people. It's actually a slightly happier ending than the book's, which comes off as more of a Downer Ending with a few rays of hope, especially considering Creb dies and Ayla is portrayed as far more uncertain about her future; the film at least has an uplifting narration about Ayla finding "the strength of her own spirit" and feeling unafraid of her destiny.
  • Canon Foreigner: Brug, a man Ayla meets at the Clan Gathering who was invented for the movie. He is implied to be a half-Clan man due to his softer features and light-colored eyes, and is set up as possible Love Interest for Ayla, though nothing comes of it due to his death in the Cave Bear Ritual.
  • Child by Rape: Ayla becomes pregnant after Broud rapes her and has a son named Durc. It's actually a positive outcome for Ayla, as she had always wanted to be a mother but no man was likely to want her as a mate, and the joy her pregnancy and son bring her helps her overcome the trauma of being assaulted.
  • Coming of Age Story: The film follows Ayla’s life with the Clan from the age of five through to young adulthood (in the book she’s fourteen by the end, though here she’s aged up to her late teens/early twenties).
  • The Film of the Book: It’s an adaptation of the 1980 novel of the same name.
  • Foreshadowing: A not-very-subtle bit of foreshadowing occurs during Ayla's vision at the Clan Gathering; she sees a cave lioness (her totem) walking beside her son Durc and a bear (the symbol of the Clan), but they end up walking away in opposite directions with Durc following the bear. At the end of the film Ayla is forced to leave both Durc and the Clan to follow a new path alone.
  • Harmful to Minors:
    • In the beginning of the film five year old Ayla is left orphaned by an earthquake and wanders alone in the wilderness, nearly being killed by a lion and coming close to dying from infection and malnutrition.
    • A little boy named Brac wanders away from the clan during a hunt, and is attacked and nearly carried off by a wolf. No one can reach him in time and if it weren't for Ayla's skill with a sling, Brac would've died a horrible death.
    • Ayla's newborn son is nearly taken away from her and left to die due to being considered deformed (he actually just looks different because he's half-Neanderthal, half-Cro-Magnon).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: During the cave bear fight, Ayla puts herself in harm's way to treat a wounded man and is threatened by the bear, prompting Brug to rush at the bear to protect her; as a consequence he's killed by the bear as Ayla watches in horror.
  • Hotter and Sexier: In regards to Ayla's depiction. Ayla is portrayed by the beautiful Daryl Hannah and she spends much of the film wearing short, shoulder-bearing fur or leather wraps that show off her long legs (and she's surprisingly well-groomed for a cavewoman). While Ayla is described as Ms. Fanservice in later books, this doesn't apply to the first book given she's only a child there (while here she's a young adult).
  • Lighter and Softer: The film still has some dark moments and an overall serious tone, but it removes or softens some of the more graphic and disturbing content from the book; this notably includes Ayla being aged up to a young adult for plot points such as her being repeatedly raped by Broud and nearly dying in childbirth (while it's still distressing, we at least don't have to watch a ten/eleven year old girl go through this; the initial rape scene is also significantly less violent than the book's description), and removing the part of the mog-urs' ritual where they cannibalize a man's decapitated head, among other things. The ending also has a more hopeful tone and less tragedy compared to the book's ending (while the book isn't completely devoid of hope by the end, things are much bleaker for the characters overall).
  • Market-Based Title:
    • In Germany it was released under the title Ayla und der Clan des Bären (translation: Ayla and the Clan of the Bear).
    • In Italy it was titled Cro-Magnon.
  • Narrator: The film makes use of one (voiced by Salome Jens) to provide exposition to the viewer.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Ayla saves a little boy from a wolf by killing the wolf with a sling. However, because Clan women are forbidden to use weapons, she's cursed with death (banished) for a month. In this case, it's actually an act of mercy, as the death curse is usually permanent.
  • Off with His Head!: One poor bloke gets his head ripped off by a cave bear.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • Ayla is portrayed by Daryl Hannah - who was in her twenties at the time - during the second half of the movie, which includes events such as Ayla being raped and impregnated by Broud, struggling through a harrowing birth and nearly having her son taken from her. In the book Ayla is only ten/eleven years old when this occurs, so it’s understandable the filmmakers aged her up significantly because it be would difficult and potentially unethical to have a child actress in these situations.
    • Brac is attacked by a wolf instead of a hyena likely because tame wolves or wolf dogs were easier to obtain and do what the filmmakers wanted than a hyena.
  • Pregnant Badass: While visibly pregnant, Ayla uses a sling to take down a wolf and saves a child's life, then survives living alone in the wilderness for a month.
  • Rape as Drama: When Ayla reaches adulthood, Broud repeatedly rapes her to assert his dominance over her. None of the clan intervene because they believe it to be Broud's right to have sex with her. She is left in a state of depression until she learns she's pregnant, after which Broud gives up assaulting her because she longer fights back or reacts at all, which removes any pleasure for Broud.
  • Scenery Porn: One thing widely agreed upon is that the film's scenery is gorgeous and beautifully shot.
  • Ship Tease: Ayla and Brug, a man she meets at the Clan Gathering who may be half-Cro-Magnon, appear attracted to one another. Unfortunately, Brug is killed by a cave bear, which puts an end to any burgeoning romance.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Creb survives at the end, filling Brun's role of promising Ayla he will care for Durc and bidding her farewell, while in the book he dies before Ayla leaves.
  • Time-Shifted Actor:
    • Ayla's main actress is Daryl Hannah, but she is also portrayed by two child actresses in the first half of the film (Emma Floria portrays her as a five year old, Nicole Eggert portrays her as an adolescent).
    • Young Broud is portrayed by Joey Cramer while Thomas G. Waites portrays him as an adult.
  • Un-person: This is essentially what happens to a person who has been subjected to the Clan's death curse; they are treated as though they are truly dead, with everyone turning away from and ignoring them to avoid bad luck from acknowledging a spirit. It's used to punish serious transgressions amongst the Clan, with Ayla being cursed for a month as punishment for using a weapon, though the curse will be lifted if she survives that long as she also saved a child's life. In the ending Ayla is cursed permanently, though Ayla's family members still acknowledge her to say a final farewell.