Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)

Ever since the granddaddy of all “cave people” movies, 1942’s One Million B.C., certain precepts have ruled over the genre. The silliest, of course, is that cave people and dinosaurs existed side by side. But other rules have remained surprisingly durable. For instance, the Romeo and Juliet setup, with a person from one “tribe” falling in love with a member of another tribe. Here’s the standard plot: a guy (usually the son of the brutal leader of a brutish tribe) is cast out from his people. On the brink of death, he’s found by a beautiful member of a rival tribe. This tribe is made up of more advanced, and generally more attractive people. The woman who finds him, smitten, saves his life, and he is adopted by the second tribe.

The son prospers there, and ultimately helps his adoptive “family” fight off a potentially devastating attack, either from dinosaurs or, more likely, from his father’s tribe. Killing his father (or the dino) the hero gains the heroine and becomes the leader of the new tribe. Other standard features: beauteous cave women, with nice teeth, mascara, hairdos and fur bikinis; the Neanderthals being represented by straggly Brunettes, and the more advanced tribe being attractive blondes; and a climatic cataclysmic earthquake or volcanic eruption, destroying the weak and corrupt (and some dinosaurs, of course), leaving the survivors purged of the bad element.

These old fashioned “caveman” movies had pretty much died out by the early ’70s. By then, audiences were too savvy to do anything but laugh when confronted by cave people fighting T-Rexes. Then in 1981 the ultimate caveman movie, Quest for Fire, was produced. This film realistically presented half evolved humans living a horrid, brutal life. After this thoughtful presentation, any caveman movie that played by the old rules was likely to be laughed out of the theater. This explains why most recent movies about cavemen have been sex-oriented comedies (Caveman, Cave Girl Island, etc.), openly mocking the ragtag genre cliches.

Still, the funniest “Cave Person” movie is 1986’s Clan of the Cave Bear. This pretentious little opus managed to meld the worst aspects of Quest of Fire seriousness with the Hot Babe aspect of Rachel Welch’s One Million Years B.C., seasoned with knee-jerk Hollywood feminism. A particularly inane strain, this is the type of feminism wherein the female lead is invariably a brain surgeon or nuclear physicist, but an extremely hot one. Our movie is adapted from the first of Jean Auel’s cinderblock sized novels following the prehistoric adventures of Ayla. Ayla’s the Cro-Magnon woman who apparently invented pretty much every mental discipline and physical discovery known to Man.

Auel seems to be one of those feminists who believes that women were once the stronger, wiser sex, who judiciously ruled over just and environmentally correct paradises. You know, until the weaker, dumber males somehow overthrew their wise stewardship, leading to war, capitalism, the ravaging of the environment and Baywatch. To be fair, Auel was horribly embarrassed by the awful flick that was “adapted” from her book. In fact, she sued the producers for $40 million dollars. And who can blame her? I haven’t read her stuff, but certainly it can’t be anywhere near as poor as this cinematic fiasco. However silly her politics, her books have a reputation for scrupulously recreating the way life was lived by ancient peoples. That certainly isn’t on display here.

Yet it’s obvious this was meant to be a serious, artistic production. John Sayles, a man with a reputation for writing intelligent genre scripts, was hired to do the screenplay. Daryl Hannah, fresh from her triumph in Splash, was hired to portray the precocious Ayla. And, of course, it was being adapted from a best-selling, “serious” novel. What went wrong? Everything. Certainly the apparent attempt to ape (ha, ha) Quest for Fire, which created a primitive “language” grunted by its characters, was a major boner.

Instead of following Auel’s novel, which has the characters speaking English so that the audience knew what was going on, the film developed its own language. This is translated for the audience with subtitles. They thus annoyed the 95% percent of moviegoers who don’t like subtitles to start with, and alienated as well people who accept subtitles, but expect to see a good movie attached to them. And there’s another obvious problem. Now, I’m the last person who would use cowardly P.C. smears to the effect that representing the advanced heroine as a tall Nordic Blond is inherently fascist. Still, viewing the film, the idea inevitably crosses one’s mind. So while in no way would I even think to accuse the filmmakers of going for some weird “Aryan Superiority” subtext, because the idea is frankly ridiculous, well, you can’t not see it. I’m absolutely sure that it’s unintentional, but still, it’s kind of there anyway.

The film opens with solemn, “important” music. Words scroll across the black screen, explaining that the film covers events during the brief period when the Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals existed at the same time. This is partially to establish that this is a historically accurate presentation. More likely, however, it’s primarily to subtly remind the audience that Cro-Magnons are the advanced guys, Neanderthals the primitive guys. This way the audience won’t feel ignorant and thus react with hostility to the movie. Unfortunately, the film provides plenty of other grounds to warrant all the hostility the audience can muster.

The credits play over authentic cave paintings, again a reminder that this is a “serious” caveman movie, not a “silly” caveman movie. Or, for that matter, an “entertaining” caveman movie. Aside from Hannah and Sayles, we note that actors Pamela Reed and James Remar will be embarrassing themselves here, as well as future mega-director Jon (here “Jan”) de Bont, the film’s Director of Photography. The director is Michael Chapman, making this the most horrifying shooting by a Chapman since John Lennon.

As the camera continues to showcase prehistoric artwork, the inevitable pretentious narration begins. A female voice clues us in: “Long ago, in the age of the Great Ice Mountains [why does this already sound like a Schlitz commercial?], the first of our people followed the herds of game into new land. There was a girl-child among them, and she was called…Ayla. The legends still speak of her.” Which is good, because certainly no Hollywood development people still speak of her (without shuddering anyway). We cut to the obligatory “Forest Primeval” shot. A little blond girl (hey, who’s that?) is playfully following a fawn. She’s remarkably clean, her hair is nicely braided, and her clothes well fitted and sewn. Just like real cave people. She’s startled by some falling rocks.

Apparently the cameraman is startled also, since he begins shaking the camera like a ten year old trying to simulate an earthquake (hey,…nah!). The young Ayla screams, revealing clean, even teeth. Her mom, hair also braided and wearing a sharp deerskin pantsuit accessorized with bear fur leggings and fashionable moccasins, begins to run to her. Too late, however, as the ground splits apart (OK, I guess it is an earthquake after all), separating them. Mom falls into a watery crevasse and drowns (or something), leaving the tearful Ayla an orphan in a primitive land. Hey, you know, this is almost exactly how the awful Tanya Roberts flick Sheena begins too. Advice to filmmakers: don’t use this particular opening anymore.

Some time after the disaster is over (I mean the earthquake), a helicopter shot runs us over the surface of an ice floe. Sort of like a frozen version of the opening of Miami Vice. As vaguely Jamaican music plays, we see a tribe wandering the ice. The narrator comes back on, introducing these spear and shield carriers as “…the Old Ones. The Clan of the Cave Bear.” (wow!) Displaced by the earthquake, they seek a new home. We meet our Cast of Characters. Brun is the tribe’s leader. Broud is his kid, the heir presumptive. Creb, a scarred, half-crippled old gent, is the Clan “Mog-ur”, a sort of holy man. Iza is Creb’s sister, the Medicine Woman (insert your own “Dr. Quinn” joke here). Without a cave to call their own, the tribe is fearful, for the “Wind Spirits” will soon bring the snows. Look, I know this dialog is meant to portray how the primitive characters view things. Still, it’s a little too reminiscent of the Beverly Hillbillies talking about the “see-ment pond” for us to take very seriously (“Gahl-lee, Uncle Jed! I’m sure hopin’ those dang Wind Spirits don’t make it snow all over us!”).

We cut to Young Ayla wandering around. A lion appears (presumably this was meant to be “exciting”) and chases her into a small fissure. After a three second attempt to dig her out, the lion splits. Whew! I thought that lion was going to get her, and that the movie would be over after five minutes (I wish). But suddenly, in a “scary” twist, the lion returns, dons a phony looking “lion mitt”, and leaks stage blood on Ayla’s legs. (At least that’s what it looks like.) Yeah, boy, this is pretty entertaining stuff, watching a five year girl first see her mother die, and then get mauled by a lion. That’s Entertainment! And why this attack didn’t shred her leg muscles, causing her to be trapped and die in that little crevice, isn’t explained. Still, we, the modern audience, have learned a valuable lesson: Any moment in this primitive, savage world can bring a sudden, horrible death (wow!).

This vignette completed, we cut to the coming of Spring, months later. Wait, or do we? Hmm, Ayla’s hair is still braided, and her leg’s still bleeding. But then again, she’s lost her jacket. So, this is might be quite some time after the earlier incidents. Or not. Anyway. Next to flowing water, we see little Ayla stumbling around. One of her legs is still cut up and infected. This is strange, because the other leg, which also looked to be mauled, is completely unscathed. She falls on a rock, and a crow flies over her head (?). We’ve seen the crow before, so I guess it’s “symbolic”. Unsurprisingly, we now see the Cave Bear Clan approaching. Nearby, Ayla lies unconscious on the ground. A little farther away, I lay unconscious on my couch. Gee, will they see her?

Brun, because he’s what the primitive Neanderthal would call a “dick”, notices Ayla but says nothing. Gee, will she also be seen by the tender Iza, who will sponsor her into the Clan and become her protector/mother figure? Suddenly the crow caws (oh, great, it’s not just “symbolic”, it’s going to be Ayla’s spirit guide or some such crap). This causes Iza (big surprise) to look over and see Ayla. Iza wants to keep her, Brun says to leave her (personally, I’m with Brun). But in a touching scene (like when you touch the back of your throat to induce vomiting), the dazed Ayla grabs onto Iza’s finger. You can guess the rest. Creb and Iza engage in Mog-ur/Medicine Woman talk, and Iza explains that she will adopt Ayla because it is the will of the crows, who are her “spirits” (told ya!).

We see Iza put a dressing on Ayla’s wounded leg. The narrator explains that some in the tribe fear her as one of the legendary “New Ones”, those who threaten the continued existence of them, the “Old Ones”. Hey, it’s the whole “Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon” thing. I get it! Later, Creb sits in front of a campfire with Ayla and Iza. Brun and Broud (are you as embarrassed reading these names as I am typing them?) stand nearby, watching. Using the tribe’s sign-language (?), he attempts to communicate with Ayla. But as Iza points out, she doesn’t understand him. They do that pointing while naming themselves thing, and the precocious Ayla immediately catches on. Then she runs her hands over Creb’s clawed face. Everybody seems pretty impressed with this. Then they all leave her by the fire. Broud comes over and pokes her with a stick, I guess to see if she’s “magical” (Why, yes, she is. I’m starting to get slee-py. Slee-py.).

Young AylaTeen AylaDarryl Ayla

As we see the Clan roaming again, we’re informed that they superstitiously blame Ayla for their inability to find a new cave. My theory is that it has more to do with them wandering around the plains instead of by the mountains, where perhaps caves are more plentiful. We also run through the old “rules that cave people must live by and never violate” routine. Here they’re referred to as The Memories. These rigid strictures keep the tribe in a rut, waiting for some adventurous soul to break the rules and show them a better way (gee, who will that be?). Some of you might recall this was also Robert Vaughan’s role in the seminal Teenage Caveman.

Soon the inquisitive Ayla is trying to pick up one of the guys’ spears. He grabs it back, explaining that “women must never touch weapons”. Wow, man, what a bummer to see sexism rear its Neolithic head. By the way, what’s the historical evidence that cavemen tried to “repress” cavewomen by refusing them access to weapons, anyway? Anyway, now that the spear has cooties on it, the guy angrily breaks it over his knee. Ayla, grieving over the Clan’s lack of nurturing skills, runs off to have a little cry. The now pregnant Iza (remember, this is an “epic”, so it jumps around a lot, following our characters over a long period of time) starts to follow her, but excitedly turns and gets Brun. Returning to Ayla’s side, we see that a cave lies ahead. Ayla has lead them to a new home (wow!).

Lighting a torch, the Clan elders investigate the cave. Creb finds a bone, but it’s ancient and shatters in his grasp. This causes a flock of white birds to erupt from the cave depths and fly off, like in some prehistoric magic act. Maybe this cave is where the ancient “Zog Copperfield” used to live. Coming back outside, Creb reveals his findings: an old Cave Bear skull. Since this is the Clan’s mascot, it’s taken for a good sign. Since Ayla found the cave, Creb brings the skull over so she can take a gander at it. She pets it. As to what any of this is supposed to mean, well, you got me.

The narrator comes back and tells us that the Clan lived in the cave for many years, and that Ayla was allowed to stay among them. Iza has raised Ayla alongside Iza’s daughter Uba (what’s her last name, “Chucka”?). But the now grown Broud and many of the others still consider her a menace to the Clan’s “unchanging ways” (wow!). Meanwhile, for some reason, we keep seeing an obviously older Ayla from the back, or with her face covered. Then, in a dramatic moment, her hair is parted and we see the face of ….not Daryl Hannah. Instead, it’s Ayla #2, the attractive teen version (Nicole Eggert). Apparently the filmmakers thought we’d get all excited. “Hey, look,” we would undoubtedly cry, “it’s Daryl Hannah!! Oh, boy!!” And then, ha ha, it wasn’t! By golly, we’ll just have to wait, I guess. Look, Daryl Hannah is a decent actress and an attractive woman, but does she really have the sort of fan base that requires this kind of an entrance? Is she so big that they thought playing with the audience’s expectations of her onscreen arrival would whip us into a frenzy? Apparently so.

Anyway, when Teen Ayla serves meat to another guy first, sorehead Broud gets pissed. As the leader-to-be, he should have been fed first. We can see that Broud is not exactly a sensitive ’90s kind of guy. He is, of course, threatened by the intelligent, bold and progressive Ayla, both as a woman and an outsider to the Clan. All while lusting after her beauty, of course. Now, I have to wonder. If Ayla were with her own people, the progressive Cro-Magnons, would she be free of this sexism? And if so, why? Isn’t modern man more advanced than the Cro-Magnon? And if so, then how did we reacquire the primitive attitudes of the Neanderthal?

Is it the film’s contention that the Cro-Magnons were more advanced than we are? Isn’t that rather silly? And doesn’t the fact that Ayla is victimized by people that the film explicitly acknowledges are genetically inferior sort of muddy the thematic waters in any case? Even Creb comes over and rags her out. Only Iza comforts the tearful Ayla. Creb comes over and explains that he yelled at her because she “sits at his fire”, and her learning of tribal law is his responsibility. “But are you angry?”, she asks again. “Never”, replies Creb. Ayla, reassured, smiles widely, and hugs Creb in a warm, tender caveman moment. Pardon me while I have a healthy little cry (“ZZZZZZZZ”).

OK, I’m done. Next we see a “Day in the Life”. Iza, Uba and Ayla (I can’t believe I just typed that) are confined to boring “women’s work”, while the boys polish their hunting skills. Inside the cave, Creb is doing the Clan’s accounting. Really. He’s using rocks on a piece of fur to conduct some mathematical operation. Ayla, of course, wants to learn this new discipline. Creb, looking around to make sure no one sees him educating a chick, proceeds to introduce her to math by counting on his fingers. Creb can count to five, because that’s how many fingers he has on his “counting” hand. Nobody else in the Clan is this advanced yet.

Ayla instantly astounds him by using both her hands, doubling the complexity of the Clan’s math skills instantaneously. Then she (I swear!) immediately comes up with the idea of multiplication!! Creb is awed and frightened by this intuitive leap (we’re just bored and…well, bored). He warns her not to show this off to the rest of the Clan, who aren’t as open-minded as he is. Only they will know (although a camera cut shows Iza standing about three feet away from them). After Ayla splits, Iza demands that Creb find Ayla a spirit to guide her.

As Creb, in his official capacity as the Mog-ur, stalks around the land looking for Ayla’s spirit, the Narrator resumes expositoring. Broud, we’re told, will soon become a hunter (apparently the Neanderthal version of becoming a “Made Man”). Without an “animal totem” to protect her, Ayla will be up a creek without a paddle (of course, she could always invent one). Apparently, possession of an animal totem confers political rights, like when you can’t vote unless you own property. A boring montage reveals Creb pursuing this spiritual quest. Finally, he comes out of a trance to find a lion has approached him. Significantly (well, not really, but you know…), it looks to be the same lion that mauled the young Ayla. Creb remembers that Ayla was scarred by a lion when they found her.

Creb truly awakens from his trance to find the lion gone. Now, this is obviously supposed to be the antecedent of ceremonies certain Native American tribes would use to find spirit guides. Again, this messes up the film’s politics in a way the filmmakers, no doubt, in no way intended. For if the swarthy, backward Neanderthals are associated with Native Americans, than the pale, Nordic Cro-Magnons would represent…the white Europeans who came and replaced them as the Cro-Magnons replaced the inferior Neanderthals. Again, I’m sure the filmmakers would have a stroke upon hearing such an interpretation, but it’s hard to read what’s on the screen any other way.

We cut to the men of the Clan, bareassed and adorned with face paint, stalking a herd of musk oxen. One ox looks skittish. Whether this is because of its imminent death or rather its embarrassing appearance in this movie, we don’t know. The hunters get one of the oxen to separate from the herd, and eventually surround it. Brun gives Broud the go ahead to engage in his first kill. This rite of passage completed, we cut to a celebration back at the cave. The celebration is interrupted when Creb, dressed in the skins of a Cave Bear, enacts a sacred (if goofy) ceremony. Having achieved his first kill, Broud is now officially recognized by the Clan as a “hunter” (or whatever). The Clan is shocked, however, when the “Cave Bear” also calls on Ayla. He informs the tribe that the spirits have spoken, and that her personal spirit is the Cave Lion. Broud is enraged, because the Cave Lion is a “man’s” spirit, too strong for a woman. But the Mog-ur’s word stands.

Next is a scene that comes off like a half-assed combination of The Sound of Music and the TV show Wonder Woman. The joyful Ayla comes running through the wilderness, eventually joined by a deer (!). You know, cause she’s such a nature child and all. Ayla joyfully yells her name, listening to the echo. In fact, it’s such a fabulous “I love me!” moment that she starts spinning in happiness, calling her name over and over. When Diana Prince spun on TV she turned into Wonder Woman. But when Ayla spins she turns into Daryl Hannah (wow, what a segue!). You know, it’s nice to be happy with who you are, but…yeesh! To spin around shouting your own name for four or five straight years! Nobody does that (at least not literally. I mean, OK, there’s Madonna, but…). And yes, this is all as goofy looking as it sounds.

We next see the grown Ayla still annoying Broud. As he stands in a river, ineffectively attempting to spear fish, Ayla goes running around grabbing huge catfish out of the water with her bare hands. You know, one of the sure signs of a Bad Movie is its need to hit you over the head with every “message”, rather than trusting the audience to pick up on it. For example, is it truly necessary to make Broud so completely ineffectual compared to Ayla? Is it likely that any regularly competent hunter would have so much problem catching food? Wouldn’t it make Ayla more impressive if Broud was a great hunter who would be the tribe’s best if not for her?

It’s like those Sherlock Holmes movies where they make Dr. Watson into a buffoon. If Watson is an idiot, than Holmes’ showing him up all the time is rather less than evidence of his own brilliance. And also, why must Ayla, supposedly so smart, be so “innocently” unaware of how her effortless success annoys and frightens the others. Hasn’t she caught on by now that a little circumspection would buy her some peace? But no, as Broud glowers at his own incompetence, Ayla has to run over and grab a fish right under his feet, laughing with joy at her own perfection. Frankly, most people would probably find her annoying.

Then there’s the moment when a Clan member tells Iza that it’s a shame that Ayla so ugly. Wow, the standard to beauty is truly in the Eye of the Beholder, isn’t it? (Apologies to Rod Serling. Not from me, but on behalf of this movie.) Iza, realizing that Ayla will be screwed when she and Creb are gone, decides to teach her the “healing magic”. This way, Ayla will have a permanent position in the Clan when Iza is gone. No doubt Iza explained about bruises, and Ayla instantly came up with the notion of brain surgery, but we don’t really see the training.

After about two sentences of narration explaining this, we see Creb come to Iza with a toothache. Iza and Ayla give him a potion that will “make him brave” (presumably alcohol of some sort). Ha ha, Creb wants to keep drinking, even when he’s had enough. Then they smack him with a rock in order to locate the bad tooth (I think). Apparently, they’re no more advanced on the Dental front than, say, the British. When Creb shies away from this medical technique, Ayla instantly invents psychology. “It won’t hurt the great Mog-ur,” she oozes. Thus placated by the newly discovered art of flattery, Creb holds still. They tie a cord around the tooth, and yank it out.

Next up, the women of the Clan are surrounding Uba, who is giving birth. Meanwhile, the aged Brun has boiling water (apparently heated for the birth. Just how advanced were the Neanderthals, anyway?) spilled on him. Busy, Iza motions for Ayla to deal with it. Ayla hunts among Iza’s well preserved and stored collection of dried herbs, and assembles them into a healing mixture. After she secures the poultice around the burn with a patch of tanned hide, Brun smiles in instant relief. Brun gently touches Ayla’s face. He has finally begun to accept Ayla as one of their own, to the dismay of Broud.

When she returns to the circle of women, she learns that the baby was stillborn. Later, we see Iza, Ayla and Uba finishing a stone cairn over the baby’s body. Uba asks her mother why the baby died, and Iza comforts her by telling her that The Spirits called for the child. Intrigued, Ayla asks whether The Spirits will provide her with a child. Iza shakes her head. The Lion Sign that Ayla bears (the scar on her leg) is too strong, Iza explains. Ayla is bummed.

See Ayla invent Math!Prehistoric Craft Hour: Just notch a stick and...wah lah! A Calendar!

Ayla later sees two members of the Clan preparing to engage in, uh, amorous pursuits. Looking into the river at her reflection, she appears to understand for the first time that her tall, lithe body, long tanned legs, flowing blond hair and white even teeth mark her as a hideous freak. She runs off into the woods. Maybe she intends to go to her “spot” and engage in some therapeutic spinning. Instead, she spots the Clan men in training. An elder is teaching the young men to use a sling. Broud, of course, continues to prove himself an ineffectual doofus, and from her hiding place, Ayla joins the others in laughing. Broud, angered, pushes over the aged instructor. Brun chews him out. Again, this is to so that we understand that Broud will be a bad leader when Brun dies off eventually. Yeah, WE GET IT! Enough, already.

By the way, what’s the evidence that leadership of a Neanderthal Clan was a hereditary right. In such a primitive age, wouldn’t a “the strongest prevails” systems by more likely? The men leave, and Ayla sneaks out to where the training slings and stone are piled. She knows that women are forbidden to touch weapons. In fact, the narrator explains, the penalty is death. Now, why would a Neanderthal tribe have such a bizarre rule? In order to “prove” something about sexism, I guess. Of course, Alya’s natural curiosity prevails, and she picks up the sling. Amazingly, the scene ends here. But I think we can safely assume that she becomes an expert in slinging stones pretty quickly.

Later, Broud calls for Ayla to bring him some food. Ayla goes over to the rather well stocked pantry section of the cave and grabs what appears to be a stone bowl of pasta sauce. However, when she brings it to Broud, he viciously slaps her down to the ground. Women, he reminds her (and informs us) must kneel in front of the Clan’s men. Ayla, as proud as she is beautiful, and smart, and physically adept, and so on, of course stands up to him (literally). As the Clan members gasp at her impertinence, Broud slaps her again.

Ayla proudly stands her ground until Broud knocks her to the floor. Then he begins wailing on her. Brun runs over and pulls him off her. Taking him aside, he tells Broud that his behavior “shames the Clan”. Brun knows that Broud wants to be leader after he dies. But Broud will never lead the Clan, Brun warns, if he hits his own people. Apparently it violates the Clan’s social contract. This seems like a rather progressive edict for such a primitive people, especially one that has lays such torturous strictures on its women. I mean, how are they enforced, through general consent?

Ayla is next seen gathering herbs and such. Broud appears, demanding sex. Ayla attempts to run off, but Broud rapes her (how charming!). Apparently, you can’t hit a woman in the Clan, but you can rape her. Why Ayla, who earlier refused to kneel to Broud, lets him rape her rather than just killing him (like we doubt she could), I don’t know. However, I think we can safely expect that Broud will eventually pay a heavy price for his actions. Back in the cave, Creb notices that Ayla is acting oddly, and is worried.

Ayla goes to another cave, apparently her secret hiding place. Inside, she gathers up the sling she has hidden there, and goes out to the field. There she attempts one toss, badly, but stares at the target tree stump with fierce determination (if she’s determined to bore the audience, well…mission accomplished!). Back at the cave, Broud calls her over for sex. Another woman is trying to snuggle up to him, but his primary objective is evidently to humiliate Ayla and make her kowtow to him. OK, everybody, do we “get” that Broud is a jerk yet? Don’t worry, I’m sure the film will continue to provide evidence of this for anyone who hasn’t. The other members of the Clan are aware of Ayla’s predicament, but look the other way. Apparently, the Clan are the direct ancestors of the modern inhabitants of New York City. Beaten for the moment, Ayla, er, assumes the position.

Later, Uba tries to reassure Ayla, who we can tell is down because she has allowed her hair to get all ratty. Then it’s back to the field, for further sling training. Now I know why the film spared us the “Ayla secretly trains and quickly becomes a sling expert” scene earlier. So that we could see it later, that’s why. Sigh. It’s true, you just can’t escape an obvious, cliché scene like this in a Bad Movie. For instance, in Change of Habit, the nuns enter their new grungy apartment and we are surprisingly spared a “cleaning up the apartment” montage. Why? So that later in the movie, Elvis can come over and start a “cleaning up the apartment” montage.

Bad Movies are like Greek Tragedy in a way: You can never escape your horrible, preordained fate. Also, can I ask why Ayla continues her training in the place where the Clan trains? I mean, presumably she doesn’t want to get caught and killed, so couldn’t she find another spot for this? I will say this: The fact that we see Ayla gradually get better with the sling instead of mastering it in like ten minutes (like everything else) is the movie’s greatest success at “reality”. Not that that’s saying much. Still, she does eventually become, as might be expected, quite the whiz with it.

Iza notices that Ayla isn’t eating. Then a passing plate grazes her chest, and we see that Ayla’s breasts are sensitive (wow, just as she herself is). Iza, because she’s a medicine woman, instantly understands what’s happening. The audience, because we’re not total idiots, understands what’s happening too. Ayla is preggers. I prophesy that the child will be stillborn or something, if only so that our heroine can continue her adventures unencumbered (I presume that at one point the producers anticipated sequels).

Ayla is now happy, not understanding that the movie’s politics will not allow her to have (or keep) a child, because that’s so, well, bourgeois and everything. After all, Ayla wasn’t made so advanced and gifted by her creators to just become something as unfulfilling as a, you know, mom (ewww!). Why, she might as well get, *shudder*, married! To a man! To continue Ayla’s “happy” streak before the inevitable tragedy occurs, Broud later demands sex, then is unable to perform in front of the entire Clan. Why, he’s not just dumb, and mean, and stupid, and venal, and clumsy, and a poor hunter, but he’s impotent too! Ha ha, what a loser, huh? OK, now does everybody get that we’re not supposed to like this guy?

Next we see the Clan out as a group, maybe for a picnic. Just, you know, enjoying the nice weather. One little girl (about the age Ayla was when her mom died), apparently not cut out for the whole Darwinist “survival of the fittest” thing, wanders off alone into the surrounding woods. A pack of wolves begins to stalk her. Gee, will this be the scene where Ayla is “forced” to reveal her sling skills in order to save the little girl? Hearing the wolves, the hunters fan out. Just then, right in Ayla’s sight line, a wolf snatches up the little girl in its jaws (needless to say, this is portrayed with a hilariously silly looking dummy of the girl).

Ayla, now quite pregnant, is given a “cool” slo-mo shot, unfurling her sling (told ya!) and firing. Scratch one wolf. As the rest of the Clan gathers, Ayla, sling still in hand, realizes her faux pas. Next, out on the field, we see Ayla displaying her skill to the assembled Clan elders. She is, of course, more able they any of them, pregnant or not. The men look uneasy. Now we understand the rationale behind the rule about women not touching weapons: Women are so much better at it that all the men would become impotent, just like Broud (I’ll bet a lot of “feminist theorists” would buy that theory).

“Ayla had used the sling,” the narrator explains, “and the Memories said she should be cursed with a Silent Death forever.” Gee, that’s sorta extreme, isn’t it? Maybe she could plea bargain down to a Faint Whispering Death for a Temporary Period, instead. Some of Ayla’s cloths are ceremonially burned. Actually, I guess I wasn’t far off with that plea bargain bit. Since she saved the child, the narrator continues, she will be sent off to the “land of the dead” for only “one turning of the moon”.

Of course, since no one has ever returned from the land of the dead (whatever that is), it’s still not a good sign. And, we’re reminded, Ayla is a woman, and with child. Gee, so I guess she’ll die out there, huh. Hey, then the movie will be over! Woo Hoo! We’re also told that the Clan already considers her to be a spirit, and that to even look upon her “would bring Evil among them.” Certainly, the audience can attest that looking upon her has brought Boredom among us. In a “heartrending” scene, Ayla moves among the Clan, desperately trying to get somebody to acknowledge her. But they all refuse to look, proving that perhaps the Neanderthals were smarter than we thought.

One moment Ayla’s in the camp, the next she’s stumbling through a dark forest during a raging storm. Apparently, the producers couldn’t wait for the “ordeal” part to begin (for me, the ordeal part began about fifty minutes ago, when I slid this tape into my VCR). Ayla takes refuge in her secret cave, but doesn’t light a fire, as they don’t want to give the audience the idea that the exile is a cakewalk or anything. Certainly, we can’t be expected to believe that the Clan has mastered fire and that Ayla hasn’t, can we? Meanwhile, back in the main cave, Creb, Iza and Uba mourn Ayla (again, Did I really just write that?).

Back at Ayla’s, she’s finally starting her fire. Time passes. Her baby is born. Next, she’s out in the woods, grabbing firewood. Using her illegal sling, she hunts. I hope she’s considered giving that up when she returns to the Clan. She notches a stick to track time, having apparently invented the calendar at some point. She could, of course, mark time by looking to the sky, as the stated duration of her exile is “one turning of the moon.” Still, she’s probably blowing off steam by using technology that most of the Clan couldn’t understand (“Stupid Clan. Their kind won’t even be around soon. That’ll show ’em.”). Back at the Clan’s pad, Creb is utilizing his own stick to track time. Presumably, Ayla has by now taught him to count higher than five.

When next we cut back to Ayla, just so we don’t miss how tough she is and everything, we see it’s snowing. It seemed like Spring just a couple of days ago, but, hey, it’s a movie, right? In fact, it snows so hard we are shown Ayla clawing her way through a wall of the stuff blocking her cave entrance. It’s easier to do it in stages, hon, rather than waiting for the snow to stop and doing the whole thing then. Next we see Ayla swathed in furs (presumably, she’s been doing a lot of hunting since the Clan burned her stuff), walking through a snowstorm. Apparently, she’s also perfected sewing during her exile, as her outfit includes formfitting fur trousers.

Back at the Clan’s cave, the tribe is sitting around the fire. To their amazement, Ayla comes stumbling in. Broud looks dismayed. Since his only other expression is sulky anger, this isn’t surprising. Creb, Iza and Uba crowd around the exhausted Ayla, and the audience weeps with happiness. Wait. Sorry, that doesn’t happen for another thirty minutes, when the movie ends. Broud gets even more pissed off when her kid is revealed. Why? I don’t now. After all, it must be his.

Broud starts a movement to have the kid whacked. Because Ayla doesn’t have a “mate” (were the Neanderthals monogamous?), no one will hunt for it. It’d be a burden to the Clan. Ayla states that if they kill the child, she must die too. Creb argues for their lives. First of all, he asks who has been hunting for the kid up to now. This seems like less than a brilliant strategy, as you would think it would remind the Clan why Ayla was exiled in the first place. Or, now that her punishment is over, does she officially get to hunt?

Creb reminds them that when he was first crippled (this was before he became Mog-ur, apparently), he also was called a burden. And if they didn’t kill him, why should they kill the child? (Uh, why didn’t they kill him?) Then, in an emotional tour-de-force, Creb reveals his love for Ayla, the daughter he never had (awww!). Unable to stand up to this emotive barrage, the Clan not only officially gives her and the kid Clan status, but even gives her a waiver on the whole “no women hunters” thing. Then, because his reaction is so unexpected, the filmmakers let us see that Broud is angered by this turn of events.

Time passes, and suddenly the kid, Durc, is now four and change (roughly the age when we first met Ayla. I’m sure this is supposed to “mean” something, but what?). Durc, who the Clan can somehow tell has the “Memories” (the mystic laws that rule Clan life), is fully accepted by the Clan members. Soon, we are told, all the Clans will gather together. The current leaders are getting old, and it’s time for “the Change” (and from what women tell me, that can’t be pleasant).

So, wait a minute. What’s the political structure here? All the Clans somehow form some kind of larger group, and occasionally meet in some kind of voting body to choose new leaders? That seems oddly, well, sophisticated. I guess the more advanced Cro-Magnons probably have an Electoral College, Secret Balloting, the whole smear. Anyway, Iza, wearing the kind of “old age” makeup that Tracy Ullman might have worn on her old TV show, passes on the family medicine bowl to Ayla. Presumably aware of the non-effectiveness of her makeup, Iza vocally states for our benefit that, “I am old.” Oh, now I get it!

In fact, she’s too aged to make the trek to the Clan Gathering, so now Ayla must assume the Medicine Woman mantle. This status will help protect her when Broud becomes Clan Leader. She also instructs her to find a mate. Although if Ayla’s so “ugly”, what’re the odd on that? And presumably Iza means a mate from another Clan. Would she then have to relocate? Wouldn’t the Clan then be bereft of a Medicine Woman? Or would the guy have to move to her tribe? Given the heavy-handed “patriarchal” nature of the Clans, doesn’t that seem unlikely? Ayla cries that she doesn’t want to leave Iza behind, but finally bends to her wishes.

My god, Captain Kangeroo! That's not Dancing Bear!The fastest sling in the west, er, past.

We see the Clan heading en masse to the Gathering (so wait, when’s the “Quickening”?). Pretty quickly, they arrive at the mass campsite alongside a river. Some of the women have their breasts exposed, but I guess the film is asserting the “National Geographic” rule. Some folks are startled and wary of Ayla due to her golden hair. Meanwhile, Ayla checks out some guys engaging in pre-Greco-Roman wrestling. The ablest fellow looks upon Ayla with attraction in his eyes. Could Love be in the offing?

Yep, looks like. When Ayla splits, the dude chases after her. They introduce themselves (he’s Brug). Brug, like Ayla, has blue eyes, so evidently he’s got some Cro-Magnon in him. Wow, they’re the perfect couple. He doesn’t even seem put off by the fact that Ayla’s a single mother. However, things instantly turn ugly with the arrival of Creb. The other Clans’ Mog-urs have had a conference and decided to strip Ayla of her Medicine Woman status. Inventing yet another cliché, Ayla is told she must turn in her bowl. Reaching into her fur fannypack, Ayla sadly obeys.

Next we see a guy whistling a leather strap over his head (which is oddly reminiscent of the slow motion “fly fishing” shots in A River Runs Through It). This calls The Spirits to the sacred Ceremony of the Bear (or is that the Sacred Ceremony of the Bear?). This involves the potential leaders to be standing outside a bear’s cave. If they survive the flushed bear’s attack, they are anointed clan leaders. In the film’s best performance, the bear is played by Bart the Bear. Bart is an old Hollywood pro, starring in such other (and better) flicks as The Bear, Legends of the Fall and The Edge. I’m sure he leaves this appearance off his resume, although he easily outshines anyone else in the cast.

Leader candidates rush in and jab the bear with their flame hardened wooden spears. Some get pretty messed up for their efforts. When one gets his arm half bitten off, Ayla rushes in and applies a tourniquet (!). However, she’s gotten too close to Bart, and it appears she’s gonna end up as Purina Bear Chow. To stave this off, Brug the Blue Eyed rushes in with a wee bone knife and manfully grapples with the bear. Unsurprisingly, this proves less than effective. As a reward for his selfless act, Brug gets slowly and horribly mauled. Then the bear bites his head off (“It’s only a fleshwound!”). Frankly, this had to happen. Remember on Bonanza how any time one of the sons fell in love, you knew the lady would die so they’d get a big mourning scene yet remain unattached? Same deal here.

Broud, who now for the convenience of the script is a brave and powerful warrior, jumps on the bear and finishes it off. This really shrieks “plot contrivance”. For the entire film, Broud has been portrayed as an inept, mean-spirited doofus. But now that the script requires him to become the Clan’s leader (so that he can further travail Ayla), he’s suddenly turns into Super-Neanderthal. I…just…don’t…buy it! Next we see a really silly “native” ceremony that I won’t even bother describing.

Ayla, who appears drunk or stoned, stumbles into a cave. By the way, she’s wearing a makeup “mask”, perhaps in homage to Bo Derek at the end of Tarzan, the Ape Man (although Hannah’s not naked with her nipples painted green). Inside, the Mog-urs are conducting a ceremony. Creb reaches out from his mind to Ayla’s, and the film suddenly looks like one of those 1960s “freak-out” flicks. In their shared vision we see a bear and a lion walking side by side from out of the “sacred fire”. Then Durc is in the vision, and goes off with the bear, leaving the lion alone. Hmmm, what can this mean?

Next we see the Clan returning to their cave. But the vision meaning is clear (especially since the narrator explains what it means). Ayla must seek her destiny (and any sequels) alone. Since Durc is too young to tread the Lion’s path, Ayla will “wait for a sign from the Spirits.” Actually, remember that vision you just had? The one where Durc went off with the Cave Bear, and left The Lion alone. Jeepers, what could all that subtle symbolism mean? Anyway, Ayla, whose spirit is The Lion, and the Clan (of the Cave Bear) are soon at home. Perhaps here Ayla will get a clearer sign as to Durc’s fate. Iza, still geezering around, warns Ayla that she (Iza) is not long for the world. She advises Ayla to go off and seek her own people. Then Iza starts passing away right then and there, as musical cues inform us that something “magical” is happening. If they mean that once Iza croaks we’re that much closer to the movie being over, then I heartily agree! By the way, Iza’s makeup job now looks like they just caked actress Pamela Reed’s face with Elmer’s glue and let it dry.

The Clan is soon heaping flowers on the revered Iza’s body. With her “mother” dead, Ayla now has only Creb. And frankly, he’s not looking that hot, either. Outside, Brun finds Creb sitting by himself. He informs Creb that the next morning he’ll name Broud the new leader. Still, he admits, he fears for the Clan. In reply, Creb gives him a “thumbs up”, like the Fonz. Brun does the same, and they rub their two thumbs together (?). This is at once the most mysterious and all-round goofiest cinema “thumb” ritual since MegaForce.

Creb is seen making young Goov the new Mog-ur. Then it’s the Change of Command ceremony between Brun and Broud. Broud immediately makes it his first official act as Leader to take Ayla as his mate. Then he further disempowers her by revoking her hunting permit. And then (are these really the first items on Broud’s agenda as Leader?) he tells her that Durc will be raised at Brun’s “heath”, not theirs. Apparently, this is a custody thing, but since they all live in one big cave it seems less than effective as a tool of revenge. Then he boots Creb out of the cave, consigning him to death. Yes, Broud is proving to be as big a jerk as we thought. Good thing for him he had that one amazing moment during the Bear Ceremony, or he never would have made the cut.

Anyway, it’s obvious where this is going. Broud’s strictures will force Ayla to leave the Clan, and seek out her own sequels, er, destiny. Sure enough, she stands up to him and he kicks her out too. Outside, Broud starts whomping the aged Creb with a spear. The Clan is aghast, but does nothing. However, Ayla (who after all has been exiled, and has nothing to lose) reaches for her handy sling and with one super toss shears Broud’s spear in half (!!). Finally, it’s the moment that the guys who made the movie thought we’d all be waiting for (actually, that would be the moment that the words “The End” appear on the screen): Ayla vs. Broud, mano a womano.

Of course, Ayla easily kicks his ass (I guess Broud used all his juice killing that giant bear). In fact, it appears that she also invented judo at some point as well. Anyway, Broud ends up looking so pathetic that Brun steps in and takes his badge (well, tooth) of authority away from him. Then, just to humiliate Broad further, Brun explains to him in great detail how “Ayla has beaten you. You are nothing compared to her. I wish Ayla had been my child.” Boy, Brun really knows how to rub it in. Broud ends up crawling around like a big sissy.

Anyway, her job here accomplished (which I guess was boring the hell out of us), Ayla must set off in search of sequels. It’s gonna be a looong search, babe. She says good-bye to Durc. When Uba pleads with her to stay (shut up, girl!), Ayla replies that she can’t. “I am a spirit now, a good spirit.” she claims. Well, pardon me, fancy pants. She walks off a short ways, then looks back. Creb calls out to “Walk with the Cave Bear!” Yeah, dude! We cut to a close-up of Ayla, weeping a single tear, looking much like an Indian after seeing someone litter the land. Ayla finally heads off, and as the narrator natters on about her destiny, we watch her walk off into the sunset. Ahh, one last cliché for the road. Thanks for the memories, people. (Uh, what was this thing called again?)

Since there’s not much dialog here, how about some IMMORTAL END CREDITS:

Characters names in the Credits list include: Ayla, Iza, Creb, Broud, Brun, Goov, Grod, Vorn, Zoug, Dorv, Droog, Crug, Aba, Uka, Oga, Ovra, Uba, Aga, Ebra, Ika, Durc, Brac, Gorn, Voord, Norg,


(and yes, that’s exactly how his title card reads.)

Co-Head of Make-up Department
Special Make-ups Created and
Clan Body Movement by …PETER ELLIOT
Clan Vocalizations …MAGGIE DAMON
Primitive Skill Training …JIM RIGGS
Bear Fight …”BART” THE BEAR
All Music written and performed on the
Synclavier Digital Music System

  • Eric M

    I know this is about 6 years too late, but as a recent devotee of Jabootu, I’ve seen this film referenced too many times not to check out this review.
    I always get genuine laugh-out-loud moments during Jabootu-cisms, but one line in this review actually had me in tears.
    To wit: The director is Michael Chapman, making this the most horrifying shooting by a Chapman since John Lennon
    That one line is so morbidly hilarious it managed to sum up the entire review for me.
    But I read the whole thing, anyway.

  • Anders S

    So, Ayla’s son gets to grow up as the product of a rape who got abandoned by his mother? And I do actually believe that there are few schools of serious feminist thought that holds that the wounds caused by being raped consists of a few days of moping and bad hair.
    I concur with Eric M; the Chapman bit was freaking brilliant!

  • crissy

    why wasn’t any other movies made to this series? or is there a part 2 out that i don;t know about?

  • Crissy, there wasn’t another movie in the series because this one lost a TON of money. Maybe someday somebody will take a whack at it as a mini-series.

  • John Nowak

    I read the first book and liked it; read the second and hated it; never read the others.

    The thing is that to me, the stuff that made the first book good is basically unfilmable.

    I’m not a paleontologist so I can’t say how accurate the book is at depicting common theories about that time. It’s fair to point out, however, that the crippled Creb is based on an actual fossil: a Neanderthal male, crippled in childhood, who died at an advanced age. I’m sure that Clan of the Cave Bear is not a textbook, but it’s probably pretty dang reasonable for historical fiction.

    But what really pushed my buttons about the original novel is that I thought at the time that Auel was telling a long fable about the endless “Nature vs. Nurture” debate, and does so with a classic SF spin: what if an alien race existed where gender roles literally were programmed into their DNA, and really were immutable?

    If the Neanderthals’ “Memories” are their word for “Instinct,” suddenly the book comes together. The Neanderthals live in a perfectly logical society, if you assume their gender roles are programmed in and immutable.

    Ayla’s, however, are not. If the Neanderthals’ brains (to some extent) are hard coded, hers is not. She is indeed smarter than anyone else around her, partly because unlike the other characters, she’s running a self-modifying neural network. Her brain, literally, works better than the others. The Neanderthals can learn, but they can’t discard core assumptions that Ayla can.

    Heck, the “Silent Death” bit feeds into that too — if a female Neanderthal shows any male behavior at all, they kick her out, and she dies because Neanderthals need a full complement of both male and female behavior to survive. Ayla survives because she’s able to hunt like a Neanderthal man and gather like a Neanderthal woman.

    In fact, one of the richest ironies of the book is that loathesome, raping, unpleasant Brug is absolutely right, from his point of view. Ayla and Homo Sapiens is a threat to the Clan. He’s up in Neanderthal heaven telling the sympathetic characters that history justifies him.

    Still, I can’t see how someone could film that without painful exposition.

  • Random Reader

    Apart from the ending, and a few minor points, it sounds like the film is pretty darned faithful to the book. No matter what Auel and her fans may claim, it is not a serious, classic novel that got travestied by Hollywood. In fact the book is, at a guess, 70% potboiler and 30% first-year archaeology text, and clunkily written into the bargain. Sure, it’s readable if you’ve got nothing better to do, but in my opinion, its being made into a silly film is simply justice done.

  • John Ames

    What’s really the silliest thing about this (and, to be fair, countless other caveman movies, though it’s not like One Million Years B.C. made any comparable pretense of accuracy) is that, as far as I know, there’s no evidence that any Upper Paleolithic peoples lived in a strictly-regimented “do not question Ape Law!” society – in fact, as far as I’ve read the speculation runs quite the other way, towards a sort of association-by-mutual-consent structure. I don’t know what the general thinking was when Auel started writing her novels, but really, it’s a pretty logical conclusion to arrive at, even for a layperson – when your fundamental social group is a band of 30-50 people out of a speculated few hundred thousand, total, in all of Africa and Eurasia, why wouldn’t you want the women to be able to hunt, or your hunters to know something about medicine, or whatever? Redundant backup is about the most valuable asset a group could have under those circumstances.

  • Maria Kelly

    If you think Clan of the Cave Bear is bad, wait till you read The Valley of Horses!

  • Maria Kelly

    The statement from Random Reader that the Ayla books (the official title for the series is Earth’s Children) are 70% potboiler is very true. If you want to be blunt about it, these books are basically Jackie Collins novels set in the Stone Age. The kind of books where most of the characters are so busy having sex with each other that it’s amazing that they have time for anything else.

  • Ken_Begg

    To be fair, there was no TV back in those days.