The Snowman is a moving personal documentary, about Jimmy Graham, an excellent and experienced climber who went to Antarctica with 'Operation Deep Freeze' in the 1970s to train scientists in survival skills on the ice. Three months later he arrived back agitated and paranoid. He said that he had stumbled onto an illegal American nuclear site and that the CIA had given him a chemical lobotomy. He descended into madness. Unable to cope with his frightening behaviour, his wife fled with their two children.
Thirty years later, Jimmy's daughter Juliette, brings this heartbreaking family tragedy to the screen and in the hope of finding the father she has lost. The personal telling of this story is everything. No matter what your family dynamic you can't help but feel touched by this film. It resonates with deep sadness about what had been lost. The loss of a husband, friend and father. The loss of time. The loss of sanity. It is an amazing testament to this family that they allowed an audience to view them warts and all, through hard decisions and difficult moments. They seem to come out the other side a little stronger, wiser and certainly closer.
The only thing that was missing for me is that we never really know, what, if any mental illness Jimmy has. There is some reference to him being vaguely diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, but no mention of whether he is now receiving medical help. He certainly seemed to have very lucid moments during the film. Was he on medication? Perhaps it doesn't matter, but for a family suffering and mind diseased, would it not make sense to find out as much as possible about the condition and any possible treatments? The almost total omission of this bothered me.
That aside this film shines a light on what it is like living with mental illness and provides us with a beautiful portrait of a loving family struggling for answers. It has deservedly been nominated for an AFI award.