One of the surprise
hits of the summer has been this beautiful, G-rated documentary
on penguins in Antarctica. Who would have guessed?
After hearing so much about it, I ventured out to the theater
on a sweltering August afternoon prepared to cool off.
The movie opens with narrator Morgan Freeman
telling the viewers that the average temperature in Antarctica
was -58 degrees. When I heard that, I knew I made the right
choice. I settled down as our hero penguins waddled into view.
Then Freeman announces that Penguins is really
a love story. A love story, about penguins? Yeah, right! My
skepticism faded as the story progressed. Maybe it really is
a story of love in its different forms. It is a story of the
love between male and female, parent and child, and, ultimately,
even creation itself. The incredible endurance of the penguins
against the harshest terrain on earth is an incredible story
of endurance and purpose.
documentary follows a group of penguins on their annual seven-day
trek each March to the place where they will mate and give birth
to their chicks. This ordeal lasts throughout the harshest winter
on the planet all the way through to November, their spring.
During this time, the only thing that protects the penguins
from the incredible cold is their own fur, and the community
huddled together. It’s an ordeal that many will not survive.
One of the most fascinating elements is the way
the male and female share parenting tasks. The male shelters
the egg while the female goes off for a period of weeks in search
of food. During this time, the egg hatches and the male protects
and feeds the chick till the mother returns. It’s amazing
to watch mother and father carefully, yet quickly, pass the
egg from one to the other, protecting it from the bitter cold.
Their dedication to the young, and the sheer perseverance and
steadfastness in the face of enormous natural obstacles, is
Frenchman Luc Jacquet directs this National Geographic Production.
National Geographic’s long tradition of amazing nature
photography is very much in evidence here. Many times I was
amazed, not only by the dedication of the penguins to their
task, but by the crew’s ability to get such amazing close
up shots without ruffling any feathers!
Ultimately, Penguins is much more than stunning
photography. It is often remarkably touching. Amidst a sea of
black and white, mother or father search for their lost chick
by listening to its distinctive voice. It’s not only the
good shepherd who hears the voice of the lost sheep! The mournful
cry of the penguin whose chick dies of the cold truly touches
the heart. And, yes, lest you wonder if the movie is too serious,
we do have opportunities to laugh at the funny waddle of these
birds in their Domincan colors.
No matter what, year after year, the penguins
will continue to march on in the harshest environment on earth.
In their constancy, their commitment to life, endurance in hardship,
and even sense of humor, these remarkable penguins reflect the
glory of their Creator. Hallelujah!
Tom Condon, O.P.