‘The Secret Path’ album and film review
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
Before The Tragically Hip made their last album Man Machine Poem, frontman Gord Downie’s brother Mike showed him a story from Maclean’s about Chanie Wenjack, who was a victim of the residential school system. Downie was inspired to do a project about it, so he made an album to tell Chanie’s story, and it led to a graphic novel and an animated TV movie. The Secret Path, which was broadcast recently on CBC commercial-free, shows how indigenous people were impacted by residential schools.
The movie follows Chanie as he escapes from his residential school and walks along a railroad track to try to get back to his home in Ogoki Post. We see flashbacks of him before he was put into a residential school, as well as his experiences in the school. The film is split into 10 chapters, and each chapter is accompanied by a song that explores Chanie’s life and his journey to Ogoki Post. There’s also a prologue and an epilogue that show Downie as he sees Chanie’s relatives in Ogoki Post, and explains why he wanted to do the project.
The Secret Path is a collaborative project, with music by Downie and the graphic novel illustrated by Jeff Lemire. Some of the songs are similar in style to Arcade Fire, especially the song Swing Set. Other songs seem to bear influence from the rest of The Tragically Hip, and some are more clearly the work of Downie himself. Most of the film has blue and white colours to show how dark Chanie’s journey is, and there is more colour in some of the flashbacks to show happier moments. The animation in it is beautiful because it shows the cold, wintery environment of Northern Ontario. One of my favourite chapters in the movie is Swing Set, because of how the scene is structured and how it fits with the song.
Chanie’s story ends sadly. After suffering the horrors of residential school, he passed away while attempting to get back to his home. I learned about the residential schools when I was in secondary school, and I found out that the students in them lived in terrible conditions. Their long hair was cut off, they were forced to wear clothes very different from their own, and they had to forget about their culture and convert to Christianity. In the chapter Don’t Let This Touch You, a priest in the school goes inside Chanie’s bedroom, and while the film does not show what the priest does to him, it is implied that Chanie was sexually abused, like many young people placed into residential schools.
Gord feels that Chanie’s story is Canada’s story, because the residential schools were an aspect of national history very unlike what Canada is supposed to be. Despite the fact that there was an inquiry on residential schools, he thinks that it will take a very long time for the country to recover. The Secret Path has a big message about raising awareness, especially for anyone who did not know about the residential schools. If you missed The Secret Path on TV, you can watch it for free on CBC’s website.