Inon (The Conquest of Fire: Algonquin Legend)
(Catch my previous Back film review here: The Creation of Birds)
In 1972, Frederic Back directed and animated his second and third animated films. And although I reviewed it first, The Creation of Birds is actually his third film. Inon, a tale derived from Native American myth was Back’s second go at direction in animation for television. Inon, at around nine and a half minutes in length, was also Back’s longest animation to date. The Creation of Birds would up the ante at around 11 minutes in length. Moreover, his animation style at this time, though still primitive in nature in keeping with his inspiration from Native American cave art and iconography, was improving drastically from film to film. One can see this most effectively in the minute-long establishing montage at Inon’s beginning that immediately propels the audience into the world of Back’s imagined American past.
The film centers around one of the most important inventions, or discoveries, in human history: the attainment of fire and its variable powers (warmth and safety from predators at night; cognitive improvement through the cooking of food which develops and makes more acute many raw food’s nutritive qualities). The film’s establishing shot makes apparent the desolation of the landscape during winter before the conquest for fire. Animals and men alike suffered through these harsh climes and found it difficult to subsist without the loss of life. And so they endeavor to work together, the animals and the humans, to track down fire and master its power’s thereby.
However, there is a significant hitch in their plans as the keeper of fire, the God of Thunder Inon, is an evil god who uses his powers to cause pain and suffering. Inon is not like the Greek god Prometheus who willingly brought fire to men as an act of good faith, even if it meant eternal punishment from the other gods in his heavenly host. Perhaps understanding the plight of his brother God on the European continent, Inon refuses to yield his magic to the people of the Earth in an effort to keep it for himself, to retain his hegemony as one who giveth and taketh away at will, and to please himself as a manipulative god who enjoys causing the death and suffering of others.
Bear has a dream-vision of the location of the fire on Earth. He searches amongst the host of animals: the birds and geese, the wolves and foxes, the hawks and the rabbits and stags. Eventually three champions are chosen for the journey: Hawk, Beaver, and Wolf. Mankind rejoices in their journey and the three are off. But wolf, whose purposes are often at odds with those of men as predators of those beings wolf predates upon, decides to run off to chase a rabbit during his travels. This leaves only Beaver and Hawk left in their journeying. The two eventually find the location of the eternal fire, but find that it is has been entrusted into the care of warlike Dryads who protect the fire using bows and arrows.
Beaver and Hawk use their wile and skill, respectively, to work as a team and claim the fire. But on the return journey home, Inon learns that his precious fire has been stolen from its resting place with the dryads and as such, Inon descends from the clouds to reclaim the fire. He manages to harm Hawk and Beaver on numerous occasions during their trip through the power of storms, of lightning, and of fire itself, but the two trudge onward, always one step ahead of Inon who is one and has not the power of teamwork on his side. When Beaver and Hawk finally arrive to spread the power of fire to men, they retire back to the forest as beings who are no longer needed by men and must return to their own domain. Yet, the men remember the deeds of Beaver and Hawk and thereby revere them from then onward in their sacred rites of fire.
Back’s rendition of this Algonquin legend is one perfectly in keeping with his purposes as an environmentally conscious person who believes that men must live with the land and give back to it rather than merely stripping it of resources and destroying other species in the process. Back, like all truth seekers of the modern age, know through scientific reasoning and hard and fast logic that man is no more special than any beast on Earth. That he is one of the beasts and that thereby this world entrusted to man by the gods or by chance and nothingness is a gift to be shared. This tale of man and beast working together to fight back against evil gods is like a call to arms by man to harness the powers of nature and physics to make the world a better place. It is likewise a tale of solidarity between all beasts and a reminder that while most animals are not intelligent enough to actually help mankind or one another, the conscious beasts can and do do so: e.g. dolphins who help fishermen to catch large harvests or apes and wolves who welcome lost children into their fold and protect them until the children can be reunited with their own peoples.
But there is a warning here as well. When the beasts found fire and gave men this magic, they were separated from men forever thereafter. Fire yielded smelting and smithing, and thereby weapons and warfare at a greater destructive degree than ever previously thought possible. Fire lead to manufacturing and industrialization and civilization, but also to all of their discontents: deforestation, land stripping, the death of species, the atomic bomb. And though the power of fire has landed men on the moon and sent our technology to the farthest reaches of our solar system and even beyond these limits, it always has the literal destructive power to render our world unlivable, as well as the psychical power of forgetfulness. Of erasure of our memory as a beast-people who live with the world and cannot survive properly in its absence, or in the absence of our fellow world-travelers: the Beasts.
[Next up: ¿Illusion?]