Our story is set on the anniversary of a lonely old man. He seems to have no equals – being incredibly rich & learned. He does not love his learning – it is theoretical, not put to use, he says. He seems to fears losing what he has, a beautiful young wife & his money.
The place is Alaska, than which nothing is more remote in America. This seems to have been the whim of a photographer, who wants to observe nature – he wants un-self-conscious photographs. He says an old man looks like the 19th century. The West was wild then. He learns, people are as tough today. The remoteness turns out to mean something else: Killing is anonymous there. The West’s wilderness was not a choice. This has to be considered to understand Charles’s opposition between shame & thinking. People who imagine their lives are important lose them.
The two young men spar; one quarrels with the old man. Then the bear comes. Circumstances do not make a difference between art & luck; how then judge men? Their actions are inconclusive. The will to live seems to be the only thing – gradually, the men lose their tools. Their last possessions are weapons, nature’s gift to man & beast. When they get to weaponry, they return to their beginning, to get food.
So the difference between men is not in respect of knowledge or strength, but it is connected to both. The art of war, or some rudimentary version thereof is primal. We know this because defense comes before hunting: Defense is being hunted, which is the education about hunting afforded to survivors. The Indian joke about the rabbit & the panther says that the smart rabbit need not fear the deadly panther. But both animals are on the paddle: Both are needed to steer the boat. They call the paddle a blade.
The joy the men get in devising & executing a trap is astounding. Foresight is connected with patience. Immediately in the sequel, they chase hope into hopelessness. Opportunity is the same as crisis. Hopelessness is the ground of hope. Charles must teach Bob that man may mold ice to make fire. One could live even in Alaska.
In his moment of hopelessness, Bob realizes that the strength knowledge gives some men really is a title to rule. Democracy is stupid: Faced with necessity, those who insist on their rights to equality die – that’s the ugly joke behind the ugly joke about white men trying to save the black man. But an equal willingness to brave death, the opinion that greatness is available, is the basis of all contest. The bear, like the lion, does not know to fear traps.
David Mamet‘s story of manliness. Find it, see it.