… and sometimes that is admirable.
I first saw this movie on the big screen, soon after its release in 2005. The Director is Luc Jacquet and it was filmed with a (remarkable) French crew who had to endure the elements as the penguins do. There is also the beautiful narration by Morgan Freeman, with his often wry commentary. I wonder how much is his own thoughts and how much is written for him. For example, he mentions that Antarctica once had a tropical climate. But then the land masses moved and the weather changed, a bit of an understatement. Almost all the other animals left, but there was one “tribe” that stayed: the penguins. Freeman posits: Did they think the weather change temporary, or are they simply stubborn?
The movie commences in March, the end of summer in the southern hemispheres. The penguins must walk, yes, birds who no longer fly, 70 miles to their breeding grounds. They walk, day and night, for a week. Like salmon, they know where they were born, and for generation upon generation the penguins trudge those miles to get back to the spot. Once there, they engage in mating rituals, in ways not much different than you or I. And they are monogamous – sorta – meaning for an entire year, before they part ways for the next season. That might be “monogamous” longer than many human couples. Ah, how oh how did the film crew capture it: the gentleness? How many human and animal couplings (if those are different categories) are of the slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am variety? At the moment of consummation, this one penguin gently leans over, and does the equivalent of nibbling her earlobe. The grace of it all.
With the fun and the grace now in the rearview mirror, the difficult task of bringing and raising a new one in this incredibly harsh environment commences, with temperatures sometimes sinking to 80 below (F), and winds of 100 mph. She produces an egg in June, in the middle of the dark winter. In another ballet, she must transfer the egg from her feet to his (it must be kept off the ice, or the embryo dies), and under his protective flap. She takes off for the sea to eat, again trudging those 70 miles, plus, since the sea is now further away, due to the additional ice. Just in time, if all works well, she brings a meal back to the newborn babe. Dad has not eaten for 125 days, has huddled with his buddies as protection against the wind, has lost half his body weight, and now leaves the newborn in mom’s care, and takes off for his overdue meal, in the sea. Whew. These birds are stubborn indeed.
Death is filmed. The lone penguin has no chance against the winter’s cold, and lies down to die. Eggs are dropped on the ice and lost. Sometimes it is the newborns; in another incredible scene a mother is inconsolable in her grief (sorry if all that seem “anthropomorphic,” the dreaded “put-down,” but it is hard to find another interpretation for what occurs), and she attempts to steal another mom’s baby, to the instant disapproval of the crowd of moms.
There is also some excellent underwater photography, which I hope was being done remotely. Penguins can hold their breath for 15 minutes and dive to 1700 ft. Sea lions are predators. One dramatic scene shows one catching a penguin – two die, as Freeman says, since the baby will never get the meal.
This movie displayed a deep understanding of penguin behavior and was the result of the equally incredible endurance – and stubbornness - of the film crews. I appreciated it even more the second time around. 6-stars.