• Jennifer Green

Review: "Polar Bear"

The majestic footage of the Arctic alone is worth your time in this documentary. The filmmakers behind Polar Bear spent many seasons following and filming bears to create this movie, with overhead shots and close-ups that take your breath away.

That's the real job behind a documentary like this one, but in order to bring the "characters" alive, the filmmakers also need a story. In this case, they've opted to narrate the lives of a mama bear and her two cubs -- one male and one female -- from the perspective of the female cub (voiced by Catherine Keener). It doesn't make the film action packed, but there's emotion in hunting ("stalking") and death scenes in particular.


The trick with Polar Bear's narrative approach is that it assigns the bears human emotions. Skeptical viewers might wonder if a bear actually knows when she's had "the best day" of her life. But the animals' behavior surely offers enough clues for when they're feeling happy, satisfied, scared, etc.


There are three occasions when the narrative is frustratingly vague -- when a death goes unexplained, when a cub and mama part ways but we aren't told exactly why this is customary, and when two bears mate and the narrator, oddly for a nature documentary, describes it in euphemisms about being "courted" and being "provided" with a family of one's own.

 

Read the full review at Common Sense Media.