Film Review: The Road to Patagonia twists and turns towards self-discovery

The Road to Patagonia opens with Matty Hannon – the director, cinematographer, and centre-man – telling how he’s headed to the top of Alaska, which if you know your American geography, is distinctly away from Patagonia, which encompasses the southern end of South America. But worry not, the title is not a metaphor nor figurative.  Hannon is simply on the ‘pre-journey’, the journey to the start of the real one; a 50,000km one from Alaska’s Northern tip, down, down and down to Patagonia.
So often, documentaries are approached in reverse; what the concluding message is decided first, then the camera is aimed as is helpful to paint the clarify the point. Patagonia reverts the process. See, Patagonia truly documents Hannon’s own life experiences across 16 years. To even begin to attempt to condense that down into an hour and a half of runtime seems almost impossible.

Guided by his intuited feelings shaped through animism, Hannon embarks.  Animism, defined simply as an attribution of spirit to animals, plants and nature, seems obvious to some and ridiculous to others. Had I been forced to define this film in plain terms, it’d be as a clash between such forces. But to do so would be to suggest Hannon is guided by a very intentional message and to do that would be to group him in with prior reverse documentarians.

There is no message, nor ‘purpose’, greater than passion. From the beginning to end, Patagonia flows as a river; powerfully onwards, but should the river erode the ground to unearth a new path, then all flow is redirected and the river flows assumes its new direction. Characters often appear and disappear in the voiceover in tandem with their presence along Hannon’s journey.

In watching, you will notice that plenty of the voiceover are questions: “Could community include everything we’re in relationship with?” Other lines of the voiceover are closer to conversation between Hannon and those he meets along the way.  The camera is aimed at the now, some shots of fantastically green forests and others of the trash industrial manufacturing has spat back onto the land.  Hannon covers such expanses and varieties of landscape and biomes; it becomes almost a game seeing them fight for adequate screentime.

These vast landscapes are often traced and felt-out by Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren’s understated emotions.  Never do they outgrow Hannon’s storytelling.  They simply communicate the feelings of the environment, whilst leaving you room to read the hills and valleys and desert as only you might do.

I think, however, the foremost strength of Patagonia is Hannon’s relatability. Not because he describes certain behaviours we can relate to, and not necessarily because he makes observations that we too might make.  Rather, it’s the vulnerability in simply pointing the camera at himself in his surroundings, no matter his state, no matter the location or what might have just happened. This is almost bashful filmmaking; so little attention is brought to all the bright and colourful things lesser documentarians might include simply for the spectacle.  We relate to his self-assuredness; when Hannon opens his mouth and speaks the language of the locals, nothing brings your attention to the fact, other than the English subtitles at the bottom.

The Hannon you are seeing on screen has very much no idea what the Hannon of three minutes screentime in the future will be doing. And in that we allow ourselves to just feel the journey, to not “[forget] about intuition and feeling” that maybe should guide us.

My feeling is that you can watch this and think no lesson has been taught and come away enlightened, that even without a ‘The End’ title card you may feel fulfilled. You may look at Centennial Parklands and see the forests of Alaska, or you may see Mount Kosciuszko and swear it’s the Andes. I may think of Patagonia as spiritual enlightenment, and you may see it as a surfing trip.

There is this almost philosophical question I have seen asked before; why did Leif Erikson set out aimlessly on the oceans knowing that there could be not a thing out there to be found? He ended up being the first non-native to land on North America, but he didn’t know that before embarking. So, I implore you to ask yourself; why did Matty Hannon ever bother to book a one-way ticket to Alaska simply to travel all the way south to Patagonia? Go and watch Patagonia and I assure you that we will all have completely different answers.


The Road to Patagonia is screening in Australian theatres from May 2nd, 2024.

Hamza Ali Khan

Hamza writes as he wills and articulates as only he does.