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Map of the Human Heart
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by Chris Parry

"Really sad ending undermined by a muddled middle."
3 stars

A Canadian cartographer (Patrick Bergin) flies into a remote Innuit village with a view to mapping the area, but before long one of the local kids has picked up ‘white man’s disease’ from him and needs to be taken back to civilization. So how does an Innuit kid handle suddenly being in the ‘civilized world’ of hospital and religious school? About as badly as you’d expect.

Jason Scott Lee, who most will remember from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, plays the Innuit kid, Avik, many years later when he has become a man. Back home from the white man’s world, he finds himself caught between both the Innuit way and the western way. He doesn’t have the survival skills to help out his village with food any more, and his color means he’s dismissed as useless everywhere in whitey-world.

Shunned by his people and obsessed with the half-breed girl (Anne Parillaud) he met in school, Avik engages in a decade-long search for the woman, culminating in them meeting as they’re about to go into battle to face the Germans – he as a pilot and her a photo-analyzer. Their reunion though is not as perfect as they’d have hoped – she’s now married to the pilot that first brought Avik to the west all those years ago.

In the end, this is a film about what our world forces upon those native folks whom are unfortunate enough to be touched by it – disease, re-education, war, hatred, death. When you’re born within it you can survive, but if you’re brought in late it all seems so wrong. The same could obviously be said if one of us was dragged into the Innuit world as a child, so it’s not as if we’re so messed up – just messed up in a different way.

Directed by Vincent Ward, who would go on to spend tens of millions on the luke-warmly received What Dreams May Come, Map of the Human Heart is very definitely a novel-turned-movie in every respect. It meanders along through scenes, jumps years and even decades as we watch Avik go from child to man to old man, and characters that no doubt would have had ample chance to develop in a book are given barely minutes to do their thing and be gone.

Added to the bookish feel of things are the sometimes-ridiculous things Avik does in the name of love. Oh sure, making love on top of a blimp would seem fabulous if you’re an incurable romantic reading about it in a novel, but if you’re living in the real world and watching it on a big screen, such an act would seem just a tad dangerous… especially during wartime.

A cameo by John Cusack adds a little fun to proceedings, but Map of the Human Heart is not the kind of flick that will play well to a crowd. It's a flick that can only be a personal experience, and even that will depend on whether you can roll with the romantic fantasy or not. If the romance were dropped and it were instead simply a look at Innuit life and their troubles coming to terms with western progress, it would have been a beautiful film with an immensely sad ending, but as a romance… it’s like selling ice cubes to Eskimos.

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originally posted: 10/26/02 06:35:45
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User Comments

8/08/07 marsville I loved the movie. The ending was so sad. 5 stars
6/23/04 jersey i dont think it was great but it is worth it to have a read 3 stars
10/26/02 Buddha So-so. The romance was pretty lame and the story bounced like a pinball. 3 stars
12/31/98 Todd A romantic movie even a guy could love 4 stars
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  02-Jul-1993 (R)
  DVD: 03-Aug-2004



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