As impressive as the artistic performance was, witnessing Leonardo DiCaprio writhing around in The Revenant (2015) for three hours made me more than a little wary of committing to another survival film. And yet, when I learned that the plot of Jungle was based on real events, my curiosity was piqued. Ready to kick myself for it later, I jumped right in – and never left.
Greg McLean’s 2017 Australian biographical survival drama/ psychological thriller is based on the true story of Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg’s 1981 journey into the Amazon forest, as outlined in his 2006 autobiographical book Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival. His story was also featured in the Discovery Channel documentary series I Shouldn’t Be Alive. The film shows Yossi Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two companions, Kevin (Alex Russell) and Marcus (Joel Jackson), as they are lured into the Amazon by an experienced explorer, Karl (Thomas Kretschmann). The strenuous journey and hostile environment quickly start to test the limits of their physical and mental prowess, tearing alliances apart.
As the plot unravels, it becomes increasingly reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness through its grisly portrayal of alientation and isolation in adverse surroundings. The comparison stops there, however, seeing as Conrad focused mostly on the dehumanising aspects of imperialism and colonisation. As our protagonists begin to dread not only the hollow silence cloaking them, but their own shadows, the stakes skyrocket. We are confronted with the human savagery that surfaces when faced with the fragility of our survival skills – something the film never ceases to remind us of. The outcome of our struggle depends entirely on the barbarity of the forces around us – snatching power and control from between clenched fingers. In suggesting this, the film is quite similar to Baltasar Kormákur’s 2015 biographical thriller Everest, featuring nature as the humbling antagonist. Daniel Radcliffe’s convincing performance aids this message by invoking the same twisted emotional resonance as James Franco’s in Danny Boyle’s 2010 biogrpahical survival drama 127 Hours. Overall, it’s an unforgettable watch – as horrific as it is tantalising.