Film Review – Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul
The film world is saturated with documentaries detailing modern civilization’s adverse affect on the world and its weather. There is An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour, among many others. What separates the best of them from the rest of them is (a) the unique approach or angle, (b) the depth of knowledge learned, (c) the empathy the film produces, and (d)—to use marketing speech—a sincere call to action. Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul kind of touches on all these things, but only lightly. The film’s primary focus is on Sebastian Copeland, the narrator, director, editor, cinematographer, and star of the feature. While the film has its share of information and endearments, it felt a bit too much like a vanity project to fully connect with me.
We meet Copeland in a plane, wondering when his journey to the North Pole to commemorate Admiral Peary’s 1909 voyage really began. The plane is about to land in Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Canada, where Copeland and Keith Heger will sort themselves and their gear before they take a plane to Eureka, where the actual Arctic portion of the journey will begin. This footage is then intercut with the footage of everything that has led up to this moment. While this is Copeland’s and Heger’s journey, we only learn about Copeland’s past. We find out that Copeland’s passion for photography was passed down to him from his father and that he has ventured to many remote destinations to shoot photos and footage for various wildlife agencies. His admirable mission is to get people to love nature through his images, because it is his belief that people will take care of the things they love. This is all well and good, but I found this introductory exposition superficial.
In the first thirty minutes, Copeland decides to focus on the amount of time he needs to spend at the gym to get himself into peak condition, on the changes he needs to make to his diet, on the hikes he takes with a weighted vest, and on the two-week training camp in Minnesota that is supposed to be a “shakedown” (this camp is designed to weed out those less than “super fit”). This camp is also where he meets Keith Heger. Heger is an upbeat adventurer with an indomitable spirit, but he gets no exposition whatsoever. Introduced by name only, he becomes a talking head for most of the film. Not only would I have liked to learn more about Heger, I would have liked to see more about Peary’s and Henson’s original 1909 journey, since this journey of Copeland’s is a centennial celebration of it.
Instead, we get the details of Copeland’s fitness and diet, along with an overlong segment highlighting the talk shows, interviews, and departure celebrations attended by celebrities that occur prior to his journey. This could have been reduced to two soundbites: (1) that this journey was to commemorate the centennial of Admiral Peary’s, and (2) that it was also a journey to bring the problem of global warming to the world’s attention. As Copeland soberly states, if we don’t do anything to abate global warming, there will be no possible way a bicentennial expedition will be able to occur.
The rest of the film is powerful, however. The journey they undertake is challenging, yet beautiful. The utter starkness of the landscape, the purity, is a wonder to behold. They undergo frostbite, extreme wind, extreme chill, and harrowing passages over thin and flexing ice. There is a scene of massive Arctic plates meeting and forming a pressure ridge. The sound of the ice grating against itself and the sight of a mass of white rubble forming into a mounting ridge is amazing and worth the price of admission alone. But again, while powerful, it still seems a bit too surface level. It is almost pure imagery. There is narration provided by Copeland, but it waxes a bit too poetic and doesn’t offer up any solutions to the problems plaguing that beautiful landscape.
And that is my biggest problem with the documentary. Other than saying the words “sustainable energy” a few times, Copeland offers up no remedies to the global warming problem. He offers up no prescriptions to the viewer and there is no information detailing ways we can help remedy the problems at hand. There is no clear call to action, no real information learned. But if we go back to his quote about trying to engender a love of nature through his images, perhaps we can understand Copeland’s approach. As a love letter to the North Pole, Into the Cold works—that is, if you can get past the fact that it’s also a love letter to Sebastian himself.
Final Grade: B-