An American meteorologist named Royce (Sam Waterston), parachutes to the aid of the sole survivor of a downed aircraft in the Arctic, only to discover that the airman is a Russian navigator, crippled in the accident. A CAPTIVE IN THE LAND chronicles their efforts to survive and to reach
help, as well as the tensions between them.
The contrast between Royce, a taciturn optimist who trusts that a relief flight will land within a few days, and Averyanov (Alexander Potapov), a literate pessimist who tells Royce to abandon him, is the film's sole strength. Royce only discovers that the unconscious Averyanov is a Russian by
examining some of the plane's wreckage; the injured navigator speaks English fluently enough to joke that he now understands why he studied the language for year. Confined to a makeshift bed, Averianov watches while Royce uses supplies dropped by the Royal Air Force cargo plane from which he
parachuted to make the broken Russian fuselage into a warm, secure shelter. Averyanov warns of the danger of carbon monoxide gas from their heater, but Royce testily discounts his fears. All too soon, drifting snow and the shifting ice flow seal their shelter, and they almost pass out from the
poisonous fumes. Royce manages to open an air vent, but not soon enough to signal a passing Russian scout plane.
Averyanov confirms from his charts that they have drifted far from their original location, that the chances of expected help are remote and that they are over 200 miles from any known settlement. Running low on food, Royce decides they must try to reach that settlement. Having converted
Averyanov's bed into a sled and improvising a pair of snowshoes, Royce begins to drag his colleague in misery towards salvation. The Russian frequently advises Royce to save himself by abandoning him, especially as their food supplies run out. In perhaps the best sequence in the film, Royce tries
to snare a tern and is reduced to blasting it into an edible carcass, after which Averyanov manages to doff his outer clothing in an effort at suicide. Royce's sobs seem as much for the plight of the slaughtered gull as for their own. At night, the sound of howling terrifies them both, and Royce
fires off the rest of the ammunition in an effort to scare away the presumed wolves.
In the glaring light of the next day, an exhausted Royce can barely strip the sled of ballast, let alone drag it. Each man seems reconciled to death, until they discover themselves surrounded by a team of malamutes they had heard at night.
The plot and theme of A CAPTIVE IN THE LAND dates back, of course, to Jack London, long a favorite author among Russians, and the entire film project is colored by the reconciliation of American and Russian. Whether as a joint production with Maxim Gorky Film Studios or as an expression of rival
ideologies (in a brief argument between the characters that seem outdated and silly) A CAPTIVE IN THE LAND is oddly unexciting. Potapov's chatty and literate Russian does not mesh at all well with Waterston's laconic would-be hero, and the location scenes look like stock footage. (Adultsituations.)
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