Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

(Denmark, Sweden, Germany, 1997)

I’m always sad when a movie starts out showing a great deal of promise, and then loses it. And I really was enjoying it. Julia Ormond is fascinating as Smilla, who is half Danish and half Greenlandic … well, technically Greenland is part of Denmark, but 88% of the population is Inuit, the people we used to call Eskimos. She is half Inuit. She spent her early life in Greenland and is now living in Copenhagen. She has an innate ability to read things in the snow. All Inuit have a lot of words they use to describe snow (but not the 100 or so sometimes claimed), but she is almost psychic about it. So when an Inuit boy of six throws himself off the roof of the apartment building where they both live she knows at once that it was murder. Why would someone murder a boy like that? She sets out to find out, and is soon in a lot of danger because she is poking her nose into a cover-up involving bribery of some very high officials by some very powerful people in a very powerful company.

Her search takes her onto an icebreaker, and here is where it starts to go wrong. She has been so smart, but as soon as she boards the ship she starts doing dumb things. The only possible reason for her to do them is to move the story along. Finally, when they get to Greenland and we discover what has been the subject of all this skullduggery, it just totally loses it. As a science fiction writer it may sound weird for me to say that it is a bad thing that it goes off into a science fiction story, but that’s the way I feel. It’s like Miss Marple (though a much younger, prettier, and even more determined Miss Marple) finally solves the crime, and it turns out it was Martians who were the killers. Okay for The Twilight Zone; not okay here. To add insult to injury, the SF explanation of what was really going on is laughable. The climax happens in a vast Dr. No-type underground ice cavern, complete with mad (or at least super-greedy) scientist. Damn it, I hate it when that happens.