How Film Changed Me: On the Great Outdoors

The River Wild

Slowly, we emerge. Blinking, stumbling, weary. Lockdown is lifting. Shops are opening again, we can see friends and family if we stay two metres apart, and we’re allowed outside for as long as we want.

Slowly, we emerge. Blinking, stumbling, weary. Lockdown is lifting. Shops are opening again, we can see friends and family if we stay two metres apart, and we’re allowed outside for as long as we want. We can travel further, hop in the car and head for the hills, for the woodlands and lakes (as long as they’re in England). Yes, gone are the days of ‘one form of exercise’ and when resting on a bench seemed to be a criminal offence. Instead, we can head out on road trips with those we live with, picnic, lie down in the long grass, and get back to nature.

In preparation for our release, my housemates bought inflatable kayaks. They weren’t the only ones either as prices, on Amazon and elsewhere, shot up like the hand of an overzealous teacher’s pet. These aren’t your bog-standard holiday swimming pool inflatables though, but slightly more industrial ones with full-on ores and an attachable fin. Costly? Maybe. But when you’ve quit smoking and been unable to go to the pub for three months, there’s a little more money floating around.

When they arrived, the night before we’d planned to go out in them, we talked about paddling upriver, finding a place to rest on a secluded private bank, and laying out in the sun like we were in an adaptation of a classic novel. Instead, we found a small plot by the river and laid down our blankets, careful to avoid the dog shit and litter left by the previous days’ loungers. We put down our cooler bag of drinks and sandwiches, pulled out the weekend papers we’d bought on the way, and arranged to go out on the river in twos.

The River Wild, Universal Pictures
THE RIVER WILD (1994) / CREDIT: Universal Pictures

The first time I went out I felt like Meryl Streep. This is not uncommon for me. In fact, whenever I’m prepping to have people over for dinner I feel like Meryl Streep in The Hours, when I sleep with older men, I feel like Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated, when we talk about who gets custody of the cat when we all move out of our shared house in a few months I feel like Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer. Still, out on the water, with the sun beating down and a light breeze slapping against my burnt forehead, I felt like Meryl Streep in The River Wild.

The River Wild is a 1994 action-thriller starring Streep as Gail Hartman, a former river guide, who takes her family on a rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho for her son’s birthday. The idyllic and healing adventure is scuppered when two violent criminals, on the run and hoping to take the river to freedom, force Gail to take them down the Gauntlet – a treacherous, rocky, and danger-filled stretch of rapids that has long been closed to rafters. It’s a perfect Sunday film that has everything: a cute dog, a sexy yet ominous Kevin Bacon, and further testament to Streep’s ability to literally do anything.

Sure, my experience out on the river was nowhere near as exciting, but it did get me thinking about the outdoors on film. Is it really possible to capture that experience on screen or does it have to be lived? My Dad would have told you the latter was true. As I wrote in my first column a few months ago, he was an advocate for getting outdoors whenever possible. I’m a reluctant adventurer myself. I’ve never really been one for ‘activities’, shall we say? Something inside me is super resistant to them. Whether that’s some kind of subconscious rebellion against my Dad’s mindset is between my future therapist and me, however, as I’ve gotten older and my mid-twenties are starting to look more like my late twenties, I’m struck by a desire to be outdoors.

Free Solo on National Geographic
FREE SOLO (2018) / CREDIT: National Geographic

Of course, film and TV can offer awe-inspiring at a lesser price. For example, nature documentaries provide a glimpse of those wild worlds on BBC iPlayer. At the same time, National Geographic can show you a man free climbing up a mountain from the comfort of your cinema seat. We don’t have to leave the comfort of our own homes to view the wonders of the world, and for the past few months, we haven’t been able to. The beauty and mystery of this mad planet captured on film make us all mutter Liz Lemon’s famous catchphrase; ‘I want to go to there!’

But the question is, can we? Flights are grounded, fear of flying and travel is certainly higher, and who knows what the financial cost will be now the airline’s budget business models appear to have crumbled. Sure, we have head out into the English countryside but a week of thunderstorms has made that a lot harder. So, for now, we’ll have to settle for on-screen globetrotting. 

Of course, my jaunt out onto the river was two weeks ago and not during the current spate of torrential rain. On those days when you can get outside, the days where you get sunburnt and all anyone says is how they can’t believe how hot it is, then, by all means, get out. My god, we need it! However, on days when that isn’t possible, here are a few recommendations to bring the outdoors in…

Get a free trial for Disney+

Elephant on Disney+
ELEPHANT (2020) / Credit: Disney

The new streaming service from the House of Mouse features an extensive range of nature films through their partnership with National Geographic as well as they’re own documentary production arm, Disney Nature. Plus, you get seven days free!

Watch Planet Earth on iPlayer


Yes, you’ve probably already seen it. The docu-series from David Attenborough has been a global phenomenon, but what better time to revisit it? Especially now it’s all available on iPlayer.

Watch Jumanji

This 1995 family adventure sees the perils of the jungle spill out into a quiet American town. Between the large alligators and stampedes, it’s enough to make you feel quite happy you’re trapped inside.

Watch The River Wild

THE RIVER WILD (1994) / Credit: Universal Pictures

Honestly, it’s just a great film that we don’t talk about enough. If I do one thing in this life, let it be bringing more people to this movie. It’s available to rent or buy on most VOD services, and you won’t regret it. Just strap in for a wild ride! 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Reese Witherspoon

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Posted by
Jon Paul Roberts

Queer Writer. Northern.