First published on 20 Jun 2011. Updated on 20 Jun 2011.
In 1978, mountaineer Jimmy Graham travelled to Antarctica as a survival instructor. Two months later he was Medevac’d out again, having suffered a mental breakdown from which he’d never recover. He told his family that he had been subjected to a chemical lobotomy by the CIA, then embarked on years of paranoid and frightening behaviour which broke up his family and traumatised his children.
Juliet Lamont, who was only eight when her daring father was transformed into an invalid, investigates his story in The Snowman, a deeply personal attempt to make sense of Jimmy’s madness and establish what happened to him on the ice. From suburban Australia, where elderly Jimmy now spends his days shuffling between home and the pub, she travels abroad and delves into the past in her search for answers, sharing the bold, adventurous life her father once lived and the strange world of Antarctic exploration in the 70s.
Time and again the CIA story rears its head, as Juliet searches for evidence to confirm or disprove the tale. Jimmy himself has given a number of strange explanations for his condition over the years (at one point in the film he states “I reckon the whales got me”), so on the surface it seems odd that the family place so much stock in the CIA tale. Juliet’s mother offers some insight by becoming angry when a more pedestrian explanation is offered: “I don’t want to know, because if that’s all it was it’s not a story!” If Jimmy’s story is true then he’s the victim of something terrible and fascinating, with identifiable villains. If there was no CIA plot then Jimmy is just a man who lost his mind, and there’s no satisfaction or comfort in a story like that.
The Snowman is baggy and a little unstructured – there are at least fifteen minutes of extraneous footage, mostly at the end - but Lamont’s story is fascinating and it’s impossible not to empathise with her grief over her lost yet living father.
Antidote Films, M $29.95