To be honest, films about hunting don’t really appeal to my kale-munching vegetarian self but The Eagle Huntress had a touching message with magnificent visual exposition that even this hippie couldn’t argue with.
The story follows the impressive teenager Aisholpan Nurgaiv. She’s a nomadic Mongolian who hails from a long line of champion eagle hunters. And just to be clear, she hunts wild game with her trained eagle, she doesn’t hunt eagles.
Aisholpan’s father, Rys Nurgaiv, is training her to become the first female eagle hunter in Mongolia. That’s enough awesome badassery to justify a trip to the theater but the film really shines in its intimate portrayal of the culture and home life of the Nurgaiv family. Narrator Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) alerts us to the cultural and familial significance of what we’re seeing on screen. This format worked wonderfully when showing the family packing up their temporary home, removing the covering, and loading all of the load bearing poles into a rather rusted truck.
As The Eagle Huntress progresses, we also see how children live, go to school part-time in boarding schools and have fun. Aisholpan thrives in all of these environments.
Although the documentary is beautiful, the message of female empowerment and pioneering spirit is rather explicit and lacking in nuance. It’s clear that this is a directorial debut for Otto Bell. At times it felt as though the scenes were staged. A scene where Rys asks his father to bless Aisholpan and her brand new eaglet, though heart-warming in intention, is very stiff and lacking in authenticity.
Luckily the film captures our astonishment as we tag along for the eaglet capture, a male-dominated tournament and eventually the true test of will – hunting foxes in the freezing mountains. As Aisholpan faces each of these tests, we are met with the opinions of a select group of elders who doubt her at every turn. The elders’ judgements exemplify the message of Aisholpan’s triumph over inequality. It gets pretty heavy handed but it’s a good message so it’s hard to take umbrage.
I’m generally not a squeamish vegetarian but at the end of many majestic swoops and tender eagle pets, there were bloody animal innards for me to turn away from. Despite my queasiness, Aisholpan’s ability to deal with animals pre and post blood with literal strength and metaphorical tenderness blew me away. She was like a real life Katniss from The Hunger Games or maybe, more fittingly, a real life Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I giggled along with her girlfriends who asked how she could touch eagles and I felt the same admiration. She declared that she wasn’t afraid of them. It’s so simple and so beautiful to find strength in this young girl’s grace. I was in awe.