- Directed by Michael Chapman
- January 17, 1986
A Cro-Magnon woman, separated from her tribe during an earthquake, is raised by Neanderthals.
The Clan of the Cave Bear is definitely a different kind of movie. I found it a lot less silly than I thought it might be. It is a film I have wanted to see since it first came out but unfortunately it took around 35 years to finally get to finally watch it.
The Clan of the Cave Bear is set in pre-history and tells the story of young Aylah (Daryl Hannah) who finds herself living with a Neanderthal clan after being separated from her people during an earthquake. Her presence among the Neanderthals is only maintained because some come to view her as lucky despite her being so different.
There are points in this film that I am reminded of those specials when educational channels did their best to re-create a particular era based on knowledge gleaned from archaeology. Historical authenticity is difficult to ascertain given the significant passage of time from when this was set to now, but they make it feel authentic. The costuming and appearance look mostly believable other than Daryl Hannah having shaved legs in razorless prehistory. That is some nitpickery on my part but it is a detail that should be noted.
The Clan of the Cave Bear is a story of an outsider forced to live among the strange people and find her own place in the world. These are not modern characters placed in an ancient time. By that I mean that modern sensibilities are not present in this film in any of the characters. Because of that element there are points of this that can be rather hard to watch for modern audiences.
One good example is that Aylah gets raped by the heir apparent of the clan leadership Broud (Thomas G. Waites). Nothing happens to him because of the rape. This is an acceptable part of clan life and is Broud showing his authority over her. I am not sure a scene like that could fly today. I think back to the kerfuffle that occurred when X-Men: Apocalypse came out and there was some marketing showing the villainous character of Apocalypse holding the telepath Psylocke by the neck. People were in a serious tizzy over a villain being bad. I am not sure if audiences could deal with primitives being very primitive.
There are no fantasy elements here as some creators might be tempted to add. The closest we get to something fantastical is a vision scene that is part of a ceremony but that is brought to us by nothing more than the use of hallucinogens. It is though a moment that alludes to the resolution of the story.
These people have a religion and you get an idea of what it all entails during the story. Aylah (pronounced “Ayla” by the clan) is trained by Iza (Pamela Reed) to be a medicine woman since she is an outsider and is unlikely to find a mate or be fully embraced in any way by the clan. This will give her status that does not depend on being with a man. Though she has learned everything firsthand, she does not possess the clan memories and is a perpetual outsider because of that.
The characters in The Clan of the Cave Bear never speak English while interacting on the screen. The dialogue is accomplished through a combination of sign language and a fictitious language translated on the screen with subtitles. I did not mind the use of subtitles to translate what was being said but I also found I could follow the story without reading those subtitles. Being simple creatures, they did not express complex thoughts or ideas with long speeches. There is narration provided in English so I guess there is some English in the story but it’s nothing spoken by characters that interact with one another.
Aylah is a bit of a rebel in the context of the clan that she finds herself with. Her new people are stuck in their ways that have worked for them for generations. They are unable to adapt or come up with new ideas. She however is from the species that is the future and her way of thinking is not rigid. She uses weapons and tools and does other things that women of the clan are not allowed to do.
Relationships and the characters are well enough done that they are different. You know who is who and what drives them. Aylah gets a good arc with a clear beginning middle and end.
The Clan of the Cave Bear is an interesting film. However it’s an interesting film that may not be for everyone. I could see some viewing this as a little silly so I will give this an if you want but it is an if you want I encourage you to want.