Monday, November 28, 2011


CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, metaphysical*

I've seen various online comments to the effect that this 1986 adaptation of a Jean Auel novel takes many liberties with the source material.  I'm not likely to ever read Auel to find out what was changed, but though CLAN is far from a perfect movie, it's reasonably coherent and doesn't seem to suffer inordinately from the alterations.

I confess that I chose to rewatch CLAN simply because I wanted to categorize a "caveman film" in my system.  Interestingly, though a lot of exotic jungle films don't appear in fantasy-film concordances, it's my general impression that caveman films are almost always present.  However, most films in this genre, in terms of the range of phenomena they depict, are not that different from contemporary-era jungle-films.  In both respects the focus is upon exploring the exoticism of the respective societies, whether that exoticism takes on naturalistic or uncanny manifestations.  I suspect that caveman films make it into the concordances because a lot of them (though not CLAN) put dinosaurs in with the cavepeople.  It's well known that this juggling of prehisoric time-periods is an egegious mistake, but it doesn't confer the aura of the marvelous upon such a film, since their intent is to play to popular misconceptions.  Therefore--

Dinosaurs hanging out with cavepeople, as in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C-- "uncanny"
Dinosaurs surviving into modern times, as in THE LOST WORLD-- "marvelous"

To be sure, CLAN also fits the uncanny mode because there's a hefty dose of shaman-type mysticism involved.  The film is set in the period that includes both the early form of homo sapiens, the Neanderthal, and a later form, the Cro-Magnon.  As a child our heroine Ayla (Daryl Hannah), one of the new Cro-Magnon people, is found abandoned by a traveling band of Neanderthals.  Among them is Iza, a "medicine woman" who elects to adopt Ayla over the objections of the tribe's more conservative members because Iza's "spirits" tell her to do so.  To their surprise even as a child Ayla becomes their trailblazer, for she finds a new cave-dwelling for the clan, which takes its totemic name from that of the cave-bear.

In time Ayla grows to maturity, but she remains distanced from the Neanderthals in that they all share a quasi-psychic awareness of "the memories" of the clan's prescribed way of life.  The implication is that Ayla, as a Cro-Magnon, has already begun to grow away from this form of "group mind."  As a result she frequently transgresses against tribal law-- first and foremost because she does not recognize the boundaries between the male and female worlds.  Early in the film she incurs one Neanderthal's wrath when she unthinkingly touches a man's spear, thus conferring female "pollution" on it and rendering it unuseable.  But Ayla has a proto-scientific awareness that the others in the tribe do not.  She comes up with a more efficient method of counting (a wise friend tells her not to reveal it, as it would upset everyone).  Forbidden to use the weapons of men, she invents a sling and later uses it to save a child from a wolf.  However, this demonstration of originality causes the tribe to deem her a "spirit."  They banish Ayla, even though she's been made pregnant (against her will) by one of the local studs.

Without going into extraneous detail, Ayla survives her ordeal in the wilderness and returns to take over her foster-mother's position as medicine-woman for a time, though by film's end she restlessly takes her leave once more, still unable to fit in.  Ayla leaves behind a male child, who, oddly enough, shares the tribal memories that Ayla does not.

CLAN is a decent enough dramatization of various theories on prehistoric societies, though some will find suspect the fact that all of the Neanderthals are dark-haired while Ayla the Cro-Magnon is the only one who is both blonde and blue-eyed.  I would imagine that the evolution of "the blonde blue-eyed" genes were still some ways down the pike, which to purists might be as objectionable as mixing cavemen and dinosaurs.

John Sayles' script, written shortly after he finished writing and directing THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, is efficient but never particularly moving, much like the actors' performances.  Ayla has a climactic confrontation with the man who impregnated her but it largely falls flat, though this may have been a flaw passed on from the book.  On one occasion, there's a suggestion that two characters actually do share a psychic connnection, but it's so questionable that I rate this and all of Ayla's visions under the category of the "phantasmal figuration," which deals with phenomena of uncertain nature. 

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