What the Film ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ Meant to Me
When I was in high school in the early 1970s, Robert Redford’s film Jeremiah Johnson came out. Even as a teen I would oftentimes prefer living (or just being) in the wilderness than surrounded by human-made stuff, and the movie seemed to connect directly to my soul.
The movie’s meaning to me became clearer as I would watch it over-and-over-and-over again as the years have gone by. After the DVD came out in 1997 (and the BluRay in 2012 which I also own) my watching increased, especially as I traveled more, my jobs grew increasingly stressful, and I would constantly find ways to physically, mentally and spiritually escape to wilderness.
The plot is about this man, played by Robert Redford, who is a Mexican War veteran named Jeremiah Johnson. It starts out with him taking up the life of a mountain man, supporting himself in the Rocky Mountains as a trapper, and all the things that happen to him on this adventure.
But that plot description doesn’t do justice to the impact it made on me since it transported me to the mountain wilderness. It also doesn’t really zero-in on the essence of the film itself, though later on the director, Sydney Pollack, said this in a video interview:
“It’s a picture that was made as much in the editing room as it was in the shooting,” said Pollack. “It was a film where you used to watch dailies and everybody would fall asleep, except Bob and I, because all you had were these big shots of a guy walking his horse through the snow. You didn’t see strong narrative line. It’s a picture made out of rhythms and moods and wonderful performances.“
THAT is the essence of the film: “a picture made out of rhythms and moods and wonderful performances” and why it connected with me. I could smell and sense the places depicted in this film and the movie filled me with a sense of peace (though native people’s struggles against the encroaching Europeans have always filled me with sadness about the injustice, and this movie depicted that well too).
The connection was so strong that in 2013, on one of my many road trips to experience places and take photos, I sidetracked to go up to Robert Redford’s Sundance resort in Utah. I’d hoped to find some of the filming locations in the nearby park, but the ranger told me that they were never publicized in order to keep people from disturbing the areas. Still, it was a place I wanted to be since the quiet, peace and serenity of this resort was evident from the moment I began walking the grounds.
So thank you Robert Redford for making this film. You, and Minnesota’s own Sigurd Olson (see Listening Point and Listening Point Part 2) are what allowed me to maintain my inner sanity during a 10-15 year span of time when I was internally struggling to “be” in wilderness while living in the hustle-and-bustle of a human-made world.
Check out the movie’s trailer: