River Running in Movies

When the movie The River Wild starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon premiered in 1994 approximately thirty of us Pacific Northwest river guides were in attendance at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle. Much to the chagrin of the other patrons in attendance. We were unapologetically boisterous and we could not contain our incredulity at what we were watching.

But we were not incredulous about much of the whitewater scenes. I was acquainted with the making of the film and I knew one of the best female guides in the world had consulted with the director, trained Meryl Streep and participated with other real-life guides in the filming of the very authentic flip scenes.

But other aspects of the movie were hilarious as well as implausibly ludicrous.

Like the ‘ancient’ raft which was actually a thinly camouflaged brand spanking new American manufactured Maravia inflatable.

Like the empty raft on a multi-day journey carrying several people and then disgorging a complete camp set up. Dutch ovens and all!

Like a guy trying to escape the bad guys after a swim clinging to a cliff wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt and tennis shoes.


This came to mind recently because I decided to watch Bird Box with Sandra Bullock.

I am not going to go deep into the synopsis of this story except to say it is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the only way to survive outside of enclosed spaces - houses, buildings, caves, sheets over your head! - is to be blindfolded. As you can imagine, if you find yourself having to navigate a river, this can prove to be problematic.

Of course in the climactic scenes of this stinker of a story that is exactly what happens.

Our heroine finds herself having to navigate a river that looks to be in the Pacific Northwest. She is blindfolded. There are two five-year old kids with her who are also blindfolded. She is rowing an aluminum boat designed for a lake. She has to travel downriver more than 24 hours. They have no life jackets.

Who wrote this story!?

The odds of them surviving this adventure are longer than the Seattle Mariners ever reaching the World Series. (Which, I guess, in 2019 the Orioles are the least likely team to reach the World Series.)

And guess what? They capsize near the end in what looks to be solid Class III or IV white water.

They have to remain blindfolded even so. Two five-year olds have to survive without personal flotation devices while being sightless. The three parakeets in the cardboard box held by one of the children also manage to survive this disaster. (Thus Bird Box. You’ll have to spend two hours of your life figuring out the connection. I am not going to divulge it here.)

I understand that you need to check your disbelief at the door when you watch or read these sorts of tales. I do it all the time with a slew of shows I like.

But I have a much harder time when it comes to survival in the outdoors. Maybe it’s because I know what it is like to swim difficult rapids in freezing water. Maybe it’s because I worry that the gullible souls who take this Hollywood fare in will attempt to try it themselves.

Go ahead and enjoy the movie. If you are on Netflix, you own it already!

Just remember, when they launch out onto that river, their odds of survival are almost nil without sight, skills, but, most importantly, life jackets.