Mile … Mile and a Half — But it seemed much longer
Mile … Mile and a Half, released in 2013 by The Muir Project and directed by Jason M. Fitzpatrick and Ric Serena, is advertised as a documentary, but I actually experienced it as a low-budget horror film along the lines of The Blair Witch Project.
Just as in Blair Witch, a group of people you wouldn’t normally spend time with go off into the woods … and horror ensues.
In fact, I wasn’t sure whether it was more terrifying to imagine being forced to go on a 220-mile hike in the company of this insufferable coven of Starbucks yuppies or being on an innocent walk in the woods, stumbling across the filmmakers, and having to listen to them play finger-cymbals and talk about kale.
The fact that none of them can stay off their freaking cell phones for more than a few hours at a time is almost enough reason to leave them on the trail as bear chum. (Yes, if you’ve ever been to a wilderness area or national park in the United States, you’ve met them: These are the guys you come across on the banks of the most gorgeous lake in existence who, rather than sit there in wonder, use the occasion to phone someone back home to check whether their order of Nespresso capsules has come in.) What’s truly inexplicable is the filmmakers’ decision to make space in their documentary for footage of people talking on their cell phones.
If that doesn’t do it for you, the documentary also features the Most Irritating White Man In North America (you’ll recognize him by his hipster hat, his hipster beard, and his hipster humor — he’s so ironic that even his irony is ironic). Or maybe it’s all meant to be an homage to Jan Rubes in Witness, and I just missed the point.
The John Muir Trail, one gathers, takes hikers through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the lower 48, but you’d have a hard time knowing it from Mile … Mile and a Half. Lovely panoramas are certainly in evidence, though they mostly seem to be shot with a kind of sterile fastidiousness that renders them uninspired and just slightly generic. (Wow! They look just like … postcards!) But most (too much) of the footage focuses on the people, who were apparently convinced viewers would find their personal stories and their first-world struggles inspiring, emblematic, even iconic: the mother for whom it’s just so hard to leave her daughter (with family members) while she takes a month off to walk in the woods; the dedication required to lug 75 pounds of expensive sound equipment up a mountain so you can record the calls of frogs; the artistry of a composer who describes his work, apparently with a straight face, as a “personally-crafted ontology of sound”; the humanity of the out-of-shape dude who basically can’t keep up and abandons the hike early, amidst a chorus of philosophical musing about self-sacrifice that one might have expected only if the guy had thrown himself on a grenade to spare his companions’ lives or something.
What we actually have here are a group of Portlandians (in spirit if not in fact) who can afford both to take four weeks off their jobs and buy a crapload of expensive camping gear, who are struggling to survive on the fairly lavish meals prepared in advance in one team member’s state-of-the-art food dehydrator plus the barrels-full of additional supplies that are shipped to them by friends every six or seven days, and who are covering a rash and punishing … eight miles per day. It’s not exactly Into the Wild, is it?
The filmmakers quote John Muir incessantly — defining, once and for all, the meaning of the phrase “pearls before swine” — but you can’t help feeling Muir would have turned right around and taken up a career as a dental hygienist if he’d known the trail that bears his name would one day be traversed by people like these.