Never Cry Wolf (1983) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A government researcher, sent to research the "menace" of wolves in the north, learns about the true beneficial and positive nature of the species.

  • The researcher Tyler is assigned by his government to travel to the Arctic to study the wolves that they believe are responsible for the reduction of the caribou population. The reckless pilot Rosie takes him to the wilderness and he is left alone with his supply in an extremely cold spot. He is saved by the local Ootek that is traveling with his dog sledding. He builds a shelter for Tyler and organizes his supplies. Tyler finds two wolves that he calls George and Angeline and their three offspring and he examines his excrement to learn what they eat. Soon he discovers that the wolves eat only mice and Tyler decides to do the same to prove to the government that the wolves do not eat caribous. Ootek returns with his friend Mike that speaks English and translates what Ootek say. The trio stays together and Tyler learns that Mike is a hunter. Mike travels with Ootek by canoe to see a herd of caribou that is attacked by a pack of wolves. Tyler examines the bones and finds that the animal was diseased, proving that the wolves are responsible for keeping the caribou strong as told by Ootek. Tyler finds Rosie with two hunters planning to explore the area with tourism and Tyler has an argument with the pilot and returns to the camp. He finds the three offspring but the wolves are missing. Tyler initially suspects of Rosie but when he sees the nervous Mike, he finds that he killed the animals.

  • This film dramatizes the true story of Farley Mowat, when he was sent to the Canadian tundra area to collect evidence of the grievous harm the wolf population was allegedly doing to the caribou herds. In his struggle to survive in that difficult environment he studies the wolves, and realizes that the old beliefs about wolves and their supposed threat are almost totally false. Furthermore, he learns that humans represent a far greater threat to the land, and also to the wolves, a species which plays an important role in the ecosystem of the north.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A young, naive Canadian biologist named Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) (portraying the real-life biologist Farley Mowat) is assigned by the government to travel to the isolated Canadian arctic wilderness and study why the local caribou population is declining, believed due to indiscriminate wolf-pack attacks. Tyler receives a baptism of fire into bush life with a trip by bush plane piloted by an odd, adventurous bush pilot named Rosie (Brian Dennehy). After landing at the destination, Rosie leaves Tyler and his gear in the middle of a frozen lake in a sub-zero Arctic nowhere. Unsure of where to start, Tyler's indecision quickly imperils him when he runs into a traveling wolf pack until he is rescued by a travelling elderly Inuit native named Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq), who builds a shelter for him.

    Alone, Tyler's days are divided between research and mere personal survival, while nights are fraught with anxiety-born nightmares of wolf attacks upon him. He soon encounters two wolves which he names George and Angeline, who have pups, and discovers they seem as curious of him as he is of them, slowly dispelling their mutual fears. He and the wolves both begin social exchanges, even urine-marking their territories, producing trust and respect between them.

    As the spring season arrives and the winter snow slowly melts, Tyler (being a person of procedure) soon discovers the simple, blunt arctic is indifferent to his sense of order. First dealing with sub-freezing weather extremes, ranging from cold snow to warmer heavy spring rains, compromise his shelter, his paperwork duties, his research. Complicating matters further are an invasive horde of Arctic mice when they show up after the spring thaw: they are everywhere, frustrating him and the wolves. Yet the wolves seem to cope with the madness by eating the mice, which Tyler emulates in his own bizarre way to see if an animal can survive on mice alone.

    During the mild summer season, another Inuit named Mike (Samson Jorah) encounters Tyler, who was sent by Ootek for companionship. Living in the nearist cities such as Yellowknife and the larger Edmondton metropolis, the younger Mike knows English and Inuit, translating in talks between Ootek and Tyler. Tyler's descriptions of his new lifestyle receive lengthy responses from Ootek, which Mike coyly translates as "Good idea!" Ootek, the elder, is content and curious, while Mike seems not only more reserved but unhappy with the Inuit way of life, confessing to Tyler his own social apprehensions between the old wondering Inuit way of life and living in the cities, including that of his deteriorating rotting teeth. Tyler soon discovers that Mike is a wolf hunter, killing for pelts. Also, Tyler demonstrates a trick he's learned to Mike and Ootek: by playing certain notes on his bassoon, Tyler can give a fair imitation of a wolf howl, calling other wolves in.

    Fall nears, and Tyler hears that the caribou are migrating south, which will provide an opportunity for him to study the concept his superiors want to confirm; however, it also provides another bonding occasion between Tyler and the wolves as he helps drive caribou towards the pack, which soon takes a caribou down. Having gained the wolves' trust, Tyler takes a bone and samples the marrow, discovering the dead caribou to be diseased. It confirms the wolves, true to Inuit lore, are not the perceived ruthless, savage killers but rather Nature's instrument for keeping the caribou strong.

    Another day or two later, Tyler encounters Rosie nearby with two hunter-guests, making plans to commercially exploit the area's resources. Rosie's lot has improved, having moved up to a nicer turboprop bush plane on floats. Rosie insists on flying out Tyler, who defiantly refuses. Rosie then offers to extract Tyler from his research campsite in two days, the time it will take him to hike back to the nearest settlement. Tyler is alarmed at the realization that Rosie has already been to his camp.

    Tyler returns to the base to find things very still. He ventures into the wolves' territory and goes into their den, only to find the pups cowering in fear. Rosie's aircraft approaches outside. Believing that Rosie killed George and Angeline, Tyler goes out, angrily shouting at Rosie to leave. Rosie continues his approach until Tyler starts firing his shotgun at him. Rosie grimaces, then takes off, leaving Tyler behind.

    Tyler goes to his camp to find Mike resting, preparing for his final hike home to Yellowknife. Mike's nervous demeanour causes Tyler to suspect the truth: it was Mike, not Rosie, who shot and killed the wolves. Without saying it directly, Mike confirms Tyler's suspicions, revealing he has a new set of dentures (and several other luxuries of the modern world), saying "This thing that's happening is bigger than you. It's a question of how you survive it. Survival of the fittest." Mike leaves, hiking for home.

    Some time later as the first snow begins to fall, Tyler goes to a high point at the base and plays the wolf call on his bassoon, bringing in other wolves in George and Angeline's pack. The pups are quickly absorbed into the pack, and will live to fight another day. Tyler reflects sadly on his time here, and how he may have helped bring the modern world to this place. The narration implies that Tyler will eventually return to civilization and recover from his experiences here. In the final scene, Ootek returns, and he and Tyler break camp and trek across the fall tundra, enjoying each other's company, along with the words of an Inuit song sung by Tyler:

    "I think over again my small adventures, my fears. Those small ones that seemed so big. For all the vital things I had to get and to reach. And yet there is only one great thing, the only thing: To live to see the great day that dawns and the light that fills the world."

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