Alpha: History of Man, Canine Relationship

Alpha is a buddy movie, between a wolf and a man. It explores one of the earliest relationships humankind formed with a species that would later become dogs. Christian Tesfaye liked the movie’s exploration of humankind’s early bouts of innovation, awarding 6 out of 10 stars.

Ancient humans led a harsh life. They had little else than the cloth on their backs and the small huts they managed to build. There were no movies, literature, video games or social media. They did not even have toothbrushes, painkillers, deodorants and hot showers – just some of the things we tend to take for granted. For all we know, boredom probably made them glad that life expectancy is a third of what it is in developed countries today.

Alpha explores the adventure of one of the early ancestors of ours called Keda. He is one of those that has already made it to Europe, mastered a language, created rituals and become advanced in blade technology. Unfortunately, he is also one of those ancestors that still hunts and gathers to survive.

Keda is a part of a rather modern-seeming clan. He lives with his two parents, who are monogamous and very affectionate. The clan is not impacted with the same level of infighting that such groups are known for, and their interactions with out-groups are strangely friendly. They are far calmer versions of today’s humans.

Back then, finding food and securing it was much more complicated than crossing the street to buy processed snacks as is today. Keda and the adult males of his tribe had to go through great effort to obtain food.

It is during one of these journeys that Keda gets separated from his tribe and his father, who are persuaded that he died. Gaining consciousness and lost in the wilderness, veda decides to make his way back to the village, which is dangerous without a master tracker like his father.

His journey is more complicated when he is attacked by a pack of wolves. He escapes by climbing up a tree and wounding one of them with his spear. Unable to finish off the wounded wolf, he decides to bind its wound and care for it. In return, the wolf helps Keda find his way back to the village.

The film is essentially about the origins of the human-canine relationship. This is a movie in a long line of films that sentimentalise dogs standing as “man’s best friend.”

A fitting homage I would say. Dogs have been by the side of humans for at least 14,500 years. They are the only large carnivores who ever showed interest in forming a friendship with us, instead of having us for a meal.

The film is also about humankind’s greatest gift, the ability to use nature to its maximum advantage. Like all species, we used to compete to survive. Then by domesticating animals, we learned to survive in association with other animals, which was most beneficial to us during our time as hunters and gatherers and also once we learned to farm.

But we became even more sophisticated, utilising more of what nature provides – the forests, the land, the chemical compounds and elements and subatomic particles – to fit our needs. We did not survive despite our harsh and unpredictable environment but because of it.

The film does an excellent job of evoking the spurts that have helped humans become civilised. But it does not do as good a job as enforcing its timeline’s reality.

The characters are too smooth-skinned, with white teeth and clean hair to look like humans that lived 20,000 years ago. How their society operates, the interaction between members of the family and their relationship with out-groups is similarly too like modern times. The only difference they have with us is that they are not privy to the same technological gadgets we proudly possess.

But I admired that the film did not pander to mainstream audiences’ distaste for subtitled movies. There is not much dialogue in the film, but what little there is, it takes place in a fictional language invented for the purpose of this move.

Its simplicity is befitting the means of communication that would have been utilised by early humans, or, with the popularity of emojis, later humans too.

By Christian Tesfaye (
Special to Fortune

Published on Sep 15,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 959]



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