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Film / The Grizzlies

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We are proud, strong, and full of hope. Instead of drinking, or fighting, or killing ourselves, we play.

"I told you, I don't run."
"There's a polar bear after you!"
"He can have me!"

The Grizzlies is an 2018 Canadian sports drama film directed by Miranda De Pencier, depicting a youth lacrosse team that was set up to help combat an onslaught of youth suicide in the community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

The film's cast includes Ben Schnetzer, Tantoo Cardinal, Will Sasso, and Boo Boo Stewart.

In a small Arctic town struggling with the highest suicide rate in North America, a group of Inuit students' lives are transformed when they are introduced to the sport of lacrosse.

The film premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Not to be confused with Grizzly or Grizzly Man.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Kyle's father is physically abusive towards him and his mother, while Miranda's sister emotionally and physically abuses her. Attributed to their trauma due to colonialism and residential schools.
  • Accidental Athlete: Kyle joins the lacrosse team after proving his speed as a runner by racing to stop a dog (who has just outrun the other applicants) from racing in front of a truck.
  • The Ace: Adam, who's known to be an excellent hunter and popular with his peers. He later excels at lacrosse and is gifted Russ' beloved lacrosse stick.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Roger calls his girlfriend Spring his sun, moon, and stars. This gets multiple grim call backs after they start having problems and he commits suicide due to feeling he has nothing left.
  • The Alcoholic: Mike, who takes a drink after almost hitting a dog when driving due to his "anxiety issues". Zach's parents are severely neglectful due to it, and Kyle's father is an abusive drunk. Alcoholism is also shown to be widespread in the Inuit community to cope with intergenerational trauma, the climate, and boredom due to the isolation. Even Adam is implied to be drinking before the second lacrosse practice.
    Russ, after hearing about the suicide epidemic: How do you handle it up here?
    Mike: Man, I do the same thing everyone else does: I drink.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Zach's parents, Kyle's father. See the entry directly above.
  • Asleep in Class: Kyle is woken up by Zach during attendance, and Russ later realises that Kyle sleeps in an abandoned cargo container due to his turbulent home life.
  • Ate His Gun: The first suicide in the opening of the film is done by an Inuit boy with his hunting rifle.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Tanner is much younger and shorter than his lacrosse teammates and is one of the less jaded characters.
  • Based on a True Story: The Grizzlies are a real lacrosse team based in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and the end credits have a "Where are they now?" section on the people the characters are based on.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While the remaining students have been bolstered by the school lacrosse team and Russ decides to remain in Kugluktuk, Zach and Roger committed suicide, Miranda and Kyle still have abusive family members, and everyone still has to live with the trauma and conditions of the community.
  • Bully Hunter: Adam gets into a fight with Zach after the latter pushes Vinny over during lacrosse training.
  • Canadian Equals Hockey Fan: Hockey is initially assumed to be the national sport of Canada by the Inuit students, but Russ tells them it's lacrosse. note 
  • Canine Companion: Russ takes in the black dog that initially belonged to Jason and takes her on his runs and lacrosse training.
    Russ: You should come join us.
    Kyle: Y-you mean you and your inside dog?
    Russ: Yeah, Maggie's the only girl who'll put up with me.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Maggie initially just seems to be the pet dog of a kid who commits suicide to establish the bleak setting. Later, Russ adopts Maggie as a Team Pet.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Mike and Janace due to their time and experience in Kugluktuk.
  • Coming of Age Story: To some extent for the Inuit students in the film.
  • Crapsack World: Kugluktuk, an Inuit town with an oppressive past and a bleak future.
  • Culture Clash: Russ, who makes innocently insensitive comments in front of the Inuit co-op owner, high school principal Janace, and his students. It is a continuous issue throughout the film.
  • The Cynic: School principal Janace is cynical of Russ' attempt to form a lacrosse team, as she's often proven right. See the entry for Jaded Professional.
    Janace: I urge you to not add to the long list of promises made to the Inuit that will never be kept.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The entire Inuit community due to colonialism, racism and residential schools. Manifests in widespread alcoholism, drug use, and emotional and physical abuse in children and adults alike.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Zach reaches it after he is arrested for stealing from the co-op store, realising he'll be sent south to juvenile hall, thus unable to care for his brother. It culminates in his suicide in the cell.
  • Despair Speech: Russ tearfully gives one to Miranda after Zach's suicide. She gives one back, making him reconsider leaving.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jason in the opening of the film, Roger due to his break-up with Spring, and Zach after he realises he's going to juvie and unable to care for his brother.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: While Russ doesn't become an alcoholic, he is shown to be drinking after Roger commits suicide and he blames himself.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Kyle's father hits his wife and his son. Although he is arrested for giving his wife a broken arm and a concussion, there doesn't seem to be any consequences and he continues to abuse Kyle.
    • Spring shows up at Russ's house after her drunk boyfriend hits her. She requests and is given a place to hide until Roger sobers up.
  • Enthusiastic Newbie Teacher: Russ, but it quickly gets tempered by his first day of class. It doesn't stop him from setting up a lacrosse team.
  • Everybody Cries: The scene in the empty gymnasium where the lacrosse team mourn Zach.
  • Facial Markings: Spring gives herself a traditional Inuit tattoo on her forehead after her ex-boyfriend Roger commits suicide.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Vinny, an initially reluctant student who joins the lacrosse team and is the speaker of the page quote.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Kyle is in Russ' apartment, there's a blue jug on the counter behind Russ labeled "BOILED WATER ONLY". In 2019, Kugluktuk was issued a boiled-water advisory [1]. Clean water access has been a continuous issue for First Nations communities and as of 2021, there are 59 long-term drinking water advisories [2].
  • Freudian Excuse: Kyle explains that he feels sorry for his father despite his physical abuse towards him and his mother, as his father was a residential school survivor.
  • Hunter Trapper: Adam, Zach, and many other people on the reservation hunt food for themselves and their families. Adam hunts fish and seal with his grandparents, and Zach hunts an auk for his family.
  • Inherent in the System: Kugluktuk is plagued with alcoholism, domestic abuse, and suicide due to Canada's residential school history and the government's past actions towards the Inuit, as well as the lack of support in the present day.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Russ for a lot of the film, from commenting on the community in the co-op store to scaring away seal after Adam and his grandparents have spent hours waiting during a hunt.
  • Jaded Professional: The principal Janace is much more cynical compared to Russ, exemplified in her scenes discussing the formation and continuation of the lacrosse team with Russ. While she's the closest thing the film has to an antagonist, her views do reflect the grim reality of it all.
    Russ: You don't want them reaching for something that they care about?
    Janace: There's a cost for reaching.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Zach is openly belligerent to Russ, punching him and pushing Vinny over during training. Zach is also shown to care deeply about his younger brother, singing him to sleep and making sure he doesn't go hungry, and hunts for his family due to his parents' severe alcoholism.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Kyle, who has long hair worn loose except during lacrosse matches, and is played by Boo Boo Stewart.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Russ when he arrives in Kugluktuk, from the classroom to the co-op store.
    Co-op cashier: $327 and 65 cents.
    Russ: I'm sorry, what? I got like, twelve things.
    Mike: Why do you think they kill their own food?
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Kyle refuses to run away from his abusive alcoholic father.
    Kyle: I'm not gonna fight you, Dad. And I'm not gonna run away either. I want us to be a family.
  • Manly Tears: Russ breaks down after Roger's suicide, during Zach's funeral and when Miranda confronts him as he is packing to leave.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep: Russ practises lacrosse by hitting a ball against an abandoned cargo container, not realising Kyle is sleeping inside. He later gives Kyle a key to the high school so he has a safer, warmer place to sleep.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Russ has his moments, but he gets better.
    Russ: Don't they want an education so they can get the hell out of here?
    Mike: Spoken like a true Qabliunaaq.note 
  • Parental Neglect: Russ walks into Zach's house to see both of his parents passed out from alcohol and drug use, and it's shown that Zach is the one who primarily takes care of his younger brother Johnny, including hunting for his family.
  • Pet the Dog: While Zach is abrasive to most of the people he interacts with, he's shown to be the main provider for his younger brother, singing him to sleep and making sure he doesn't go hungry.
  • The Quiet One: Miranda and Kyle, but they become well-spoken, eloquent young adults and come out of their shells by the end of the film.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Adam is shown to be living and hunting with his grandparents, and the film implies that residential school heavily affected his parents.
  • The Reliable One: Miranda, who excels academically and is the most responsible student in the school. Russ recruits her to organise lacrosse practises, and she manages to fundraise a not-insignificant amount of money through her ideas, and spearheads the petition to the town council. She can also be counted on to give Russ a speech whenever he does something insensitive or questionable.
  • Save Our Students: While the story has elements of this, it is approached with more realism and the film does not shy away from depicting the harsh socioeconomic circumstances.
  • Scenery Porn: The film has some beautiful shots, lingering on the pristine vistas of the tundra.
  • Skipping School: Kugluktuk High School has a high rate of absenteeism, due to the need to hunt for their families to avoid starvation. Some Inuit elders also have issues with their children attending due to the trauma and consequences of residential schools.
    Mike: Look, you don't need algebra when you hunt and live off the land, and that's how they roll, so they figure: what's the point?
    Adam: They [my grandparents] don't want me going to a white man's school, 'cause that's what fucked up my parents.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Spring is the only female member of The Grizzlies.
  • Training Montage: As befits a sports drama film, there is a lacrosse training montage backed by the Inuktitut and English rap song "Trials".
  • Tranquil Fury: An extremely brief moment is shown by Adam when Russ visits him and his grandparents on a snowmobile while they are hunting on ice. It's an illustration of Inuit attitudes towards anger, the difficulty of hunting, and Russ's ignorance.
    Adam: You're not very popular. You just scared away all the seal.
    Russ: Oh, sorry, I thought...
    Adam: If you even move your toe, the seal can hear it and they leave. We've been waiting here for hours.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Subverted, as the Grizzlies only end up scoring one goal against the team they play against in the lacrosse nationals.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Miranda gives a stunning speech to Russ twice. Once after he berates Zach for not focusing on lacrosse training, and when she realises Russ is packing to leave Kugluktuk after Zach's suicide.
    Miranda when Russ criticises Zach: We Inuit love this land because we can see for miles. We notice every little thing. But you? You only see right here. Right in front of your face. All of us have made sacrifices to be here. All of us. You really think Zach doesn't want to play? You've been to his house. Did you not see? His family is starving. He has to hunt. Get a clue.
    Miranda when Russ is packing: We've been dealing with this for years, and we're still here! You get knocked down one time and you're going to run away? You came here, told us how we should be. No matter what, keep on trying, keep hoping for better things! This is not about you. You might not believe what you said, but we do.
  • White Male Lead: Despite the setting of the film in an Inuit community, the main character is Russ, a white man. Downplayed due to the various Inuit youth (namely Zach, Miranda, Kyle, and Adam) whose stories and struggles are focused on.
  • White Man's Burden: While the film has faced accusations regarding this issue, the story is really less about a white man saving the natives and more about the way sports can enrich and heal a community. The producers (including Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril) and director were conscious of these issues and had the screenplay centred more on the perspectives of Inuit youth. More can be read about it here [3].
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: See above when Miranda confronts Russ. While Miranda is shown to be smart and the most competent student in the class, she's an Inuk while Russ is a qallunaatnote  and a white man.