The Man From Snowy River is a movie that came out in 1982. I remember seeing it for the first time on a rainy autumn afternoon when I was twenty-seven, a year older than the main character in the movie, played by Canadian-born actor Tom Burlinson. This is also the movie I’ve seen more than any other – somewhere between twenty and thirty times.
The movie takes place in the Australian outback in the 1880’s and tells the story of how young Jim Craig learns to be a man after the accidental death of his excellent father. Jim’s mother had passed away long before, and he is suddenly left alone to fend for himself in the mountains of the Snowy River range. Times are hard, which makes for hard men: before Jim can begin building a life of his own on his father’s property the local mountain men declare that Jim must move to the low country and “earn the right to live up here, like your father did!”
Jim finds work on a wealthy rancher’s cattle farm, working alongside other men, some of them total assholes. His efforts to prove himself to be a dependable hard-working lad sets him on a character-building path where he must address issues of manhood and masculinity, keeping one’s word, the earning and showing of respect, standing up to bullies, doing what’s right, and not giving up in the face of hardship or discomfort. Things get messy when Jim ignores his instincts about right and wrong and accepts a suggestion from the rancher’s beautiful daughter on how to score some points with her dad, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to the lives of others being put at risk – all because a boy was trying to impress a girl.
The movie takes place in the 1880’s but the relationship dynamics depicted in this film are timeless. In particular, there’s a recurring theme that touches me every time: respect. I don’t know if the writers did it intentionally, but with every viewing of this movie I’m attracted to the way in which men in leadership roles are respected, a detail that shows up in both dialogue and behavior. The keeping of one’s word and standing up for one’s beliefs and convictions while possessing enough common sense to consider the viewpoints of one’s elders – the showing of respect – are beautifully represented.
These moments are easy to spot since, in my experience, there’s very little of this kind of behavior going on anymore. So many of today’s young men are utterly bankrupt of any male grounding, which is to be expected in a modern culture where solid, respect-worthy male leadership is rarely modeled. This, I believe, is primarily due to an epidemic of fatherless – or abusive father – upbringings. It’s no wonder there’s such a clusterfuck of manscaped apathetic pussies and over-compensating assholes crashing into one another in their effort to extract maximum reward or pleasure from life by way of minimum input and questionable values. Any man, of any age, who is unconscious or in denial of his father wound stands a high probability of landing in one of two camps: the domesticated male who prefers the comfort and guidance of a strong-willed woman, or the over-compensating alpha male who likes to dominate and control through intimidation and insensitivity. Which brings me back to The Man From Snowy River. . .
I’ve been coming back to this movie for over thirty years, in large part because of its honest and inspiring depiction of solid, uncomplicated men relating to one another. Young Jim’s gradual transformation from misunderstood outsider to respected equal is a core theme in this movie, and with each viewing I notice that specific scenes or moments will have an impact on me depending on how I’ve been showing up in my own life.
Over and over again, throughout this movie, Jim Craig finds himself having to make choices that will directly impact the direction and quality of his life. There are too many small moments of honor, respect and character-building in this movie to name, so I invite you to watch it and discover them for yourself. Pay particular attention to those details in the story that touch you, grab you, or speak to you: these details will serve as clues as to where you are in your own life.