The theme of “Nanook of the North” can best be described as the struggle to survive in everyday life in a harsh, unforgiving environment. The filmmaker expressed this everyday life with the idea that the act of being and living was simple in principle but in truth was an incredibly complicated and arduous journey. Exploring the possibilities for the topic of this piece, the simple principle of “the biography of an Eskimo
family throughout the year” was mentioned in an interview about the making of Nanook and accurately sums up the topic. The main conflict is the struggle to attain food
The characters are Nanook and his family: Nyla, Allee, Canayou, Rainbow, and their puppy, Comock. The dogs also play a constant role in their lives. These characters are the players in the topic of a year in the life on an Eskimo. They live out their lives and are filmed doing so.
The film begins with Nanook’s family making a boat. In it, they travel to the English trading post and trade some of their catching and furs for knives and candy. Nanook is impressed by a gramophone he has a chance to observe. Our Northern hero then traverses the dangerous ice floes to catch some mighty large fish. Later, his family has a food shortage and they all head off in the direction of a rumored walrus gathering. They successfully manage to kill a walrus in a lengthy battle of strength and endurance and are saved from starvation. They build a new igloo, complete with a spiffy window. Journeying away from their new home, Nanook and company catch a seal but get caught in a blizzard and take shelter in an abandoned igloo, feeding the ravenous dogs that pull them across the frozen north.
The main action sequences are when Nanook is struggling with other animals. The walrus hunt, the seal hunt, the catching of the fox, and the feeding of the dogs are the main adrenaline scenes in the film. This is a simple documentary, one of the first of its kind, and yet it is powerful and profound even in its silent state.