Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Movie Reviews With an Off-Grid Perspective

By Cam Mather

Now that it’s cool and dark in the evenings Michelle and I are watching more TV. I try to read, but I’m usually bagged and fall asleep in about 5 minutes. I can stay awake for moving pictures. Thankfully we have a great video store in Tamworth where Tim, the owner, provides a great selection of movies. ( The movies that I’m about to describe are in no way about being off grid, but since we watched them on our ‘solar-powered’ TV, it’s kind of related.

Apart from the movie “Bridesmaids” and a few other similarly “deep” ones, our movie viewing has had an historic theme lately.

First off we watched “The Way Back” ( It’s about a group of prisoners who escaped from a gulag in Siberia and walked 4,000 miles to India. People got sent to gulags if they didn’t tow the communist line. Question the party or communism and it was off to a gulag! And the outcome was not generally good. The group shown in the movie knows the reality so they decide to escape. Of course Siberia was a wasteland and the walk out was horrendous. I thought it was a great movie and the scenery was amazing. I also like to be reminded of the reality of communism.

We had recently watched “The Last Station” about Leo Tolstoy. He lived in Russia and that movie’s perspective on communism didn’t seem so bad. But the gulags! Wow, what a horror show.

These movies got me thinking about ‘other’ political systems. The concept of communism, everyone being equal, is a good one, I think. But like George Orwell said in his book “Animal Farm,” ‘All animals are equal, but some (the pigs) are more equal.” So if the system is going to end up lop sided, you might as well be in a democratic society so at least you can complain without ending up in a gulag.

Then we watched “The Conspirator” ( which is about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Being a Canadian, I didn’t know much about this. The movie follows the military trial of Mary Surratt, the first woman to be executed by the U.S. Government. She was the mother of one of the men who were involved in a plot to kidnap Lincoln. Mary is represented by a young lawyer who still believes in the rule of law, versus a government/military system hell bent on revenge and sending a message. It really reminded of what happens when governments end up in disarray, kind of like the U.S. after 9/11. She was denied all the basic constitutional rights that were put in place to prevent abuse. It’s quite frightening. It reminds me of how quickly the Patriot Act was passed and makes me wonder why, a decade after 9/11, President Obama signed another extension to the Patriot Act. Was it necessary?

As a Canadian perhaps I have no right to have an opinion here, especially since my own government was busy using bad intelligence and renditioning terrorist suspects to countries that still torture. What is that saying? “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” It always good when a historical movie has relevance to present day events.

The last historical movie was “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” with Brad Pitt as Jesse James.  ( I really like Brad Pitt. He was a panic in the movie “Burn After Reading” ( and “Inglourious Basterds” ( and he’s great in this movie too. People often mistake me for him, so there’s that too. (For new readers to my blog, this is sarcasm)

I also didn’t know much about Jesse James. I sort of thought he did his thing in the wild, wild west, but he seemed to live in cities or towns that were fairly well developed. The movie takes place during the 1880s, which is when our house was built. So the movie is kind of about living off grid, since everyone lived “off grid” at that point. Which didn’t seem too bad actually. Except for all the work keeping your house warm and growing your own food. It sure makes you appreciate how good we have it, now that we’ve discovered how to use our manservant “oil” for so much of our labour.

Michelle and I like to think about what life would have been like when this house was built. It really was a case of people hacking out a living from the bush. The work would have been back breaking and exhausting. They would have spent their time obsessed with staying warm and eating. That’s pretty much all they would have done. We often joke, as we’re poking around the barn foundation, or the basement of the house, that we hope to come across a secret stash of gold bars that previous inhabitants might have hidden. Man, what a pipe dream. If they had managed to make a few bucks selling milk to the local cheese factory I’m sure they would have had to spend it on flour or a new wagon wheel to replace the broken one or perhaps an axe to use for cutting firewood. I’m sure they would have used money to buy something of use to them, as opposed to a lump of metal to hide in a wall.

Oh well … I can dream.


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