Film Review: Nat Geo’s “Wild Life” Showcases How a Couple’s Love Transformed into Love for the Planet

They say love is the most powerful force on Earth, but they also say the planet is dying. In Wild Life, a National Geographic Documentary Film from the Oscar-winning directors of Free Solo, those two concepts come together through the love story of Doug and Kris Tompkins, outdoor brand pioneers who gave everything up to try and protect some of Earth’s most vital natural resources. It’s a love story, a sustainment story, and it inspired audiences during its premiere at SXSW.

(Nat Geo)

(Nat Geo)

Co-director Jimmy Chin arrives at Patagonia National Park to take Kris Tompkins on a climbing trip to the highest point in the park, a peak named Kristine in her honor. The peak is famous to consumers of the Patagonia apparel brand as it’s featured on the logo, but what you wouldn’t know is how emotional this ascent is for its namesake. Kris had never climbed it before, and neither had her husband, the late Doug Tompkins. And within that framing device, a documentary unfolds about Doug and Kris as individuals, their discovery of each other’s shared passions, Doug’s loss, and how Kris found the strength to carry on and fulfill his dying wishes. The climb itself isn’t the journey, it’s everything that lead to this moment that becomes emotionally profound.

Real-life couple Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi once again uncover magic on film through their love of the documentary format and climbing. But other than their connection to Free Solo and the fact that both projects feature a an ascent, Wild Life is more of a documentary film about a couple who found each other against the odds, and then used their union to enact real, lasting change. It’s a deeply human story that also fits perfectly within the hallmark of National Geographic’s core mission to explore and inform.

The documentary features talking-head interviews with people close to both Doug and Kris, or who worked on their dreams of establishing national parks in Chile. These include Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and his wife Melinda; Doug’s ex-wife and designer Susie Buell; climbers Rick Ridgeway and Lito Tejada-Flores; politicians Andrés Velasco, Claudio Alvarado, Michelle Bachelet; plus the people who keep the national parks running now that they have been passed over to the government for operations. It is both the story of how Doug and Kris found each other and discovered a new dream, but also the collaboration required to make that dream a reality.

Seven years in the making, Wild Life succeeds at all of its goals. It honors the life and philanthropy of Doug and Kris Tompkins, showcases their conservation efforts, and inspires viewers to think about what they can do to help carry out their mission. Love may be the most powerful force on Earth, but with a planet in a state of steady decline, it needs a lot of love, too.

I give Wild Life 5 out of 5 stars.

Wild Life will enjoy a limited theatrical release this April.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).