Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Taika Waititi (writer-director) Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

The filmHunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), written and directed by Taika Waititi, is a comedy-drama set in the New Zealand bush that features a troubled Maori youth, Ricky Baker, who is fostered out to a loving maternal mixed-race woman, Bella, who lacks children of her own, and her grumpy old white husband, Hec, who is a rugged individualistic outdoorsman.  The film puts the case that troubled youths respond positively to love, understanding and kindness, as well as to being challenged to develop survival skills in the great outdoors.  The film features the loving bond that gradually develops between the grumpy old white man and the troubled Maori youth who venture into the wilderness together, on the run from authorities after the loving wife dies and the department of child welfare threatens to take the youth back to send him to a juvenile detention centre. 

The film celebrates the value of family, in this case the family you choose rather than the family into which you are born.  The film suggests that the bonds of family may be found in unexpected places, and that family is what you make it, and racial differences pose no obstacle to these connections.  In this regard, the film features the loving bond that gradually develops between Ricky Baker and Hec that enriches both of their lives and contributes to the reform of Ricky Baker as a juvenile delinquent. 

At the commencement of the film, Ricky Baker is a juvenile delinquent who is considered by the child welfare authorities to be beyond reform, a ‘bad egg’, yet he responds positively to the love, understanding and kindness shown by his foster mother Bella.  This begins the process of his reform.  After Bella suddenly dies, he escapes into the wilderness with his foster father Hec, where the challenges of survival they face together, along with their sense of shared adventure, serve to complete the reform of this once wayward youth. 

The film is critical of government bureaucracy and regulation, especially in the form of the impositions imposed by the child welfare authorities who overregulate the lives of individuals and often get it wrong in terms of what is best for someone’s welfare.  In this context, the film supports a notion of rugged individualism as a means to be true to oneself and as a means to bring out the best in an individual.  The child welfare authorities become the antagonists or villains of the story, while the state authorities, in general, are frequently represented as overly oppressive, imposing too much red tape, heavy-handed and misguided.  Meanwhile, eccentric individuals are valued for who they are and for being their authentic selves especially when resisting oppression by the state.  The bush is presented as an ideal place for these distinctive individuals to flourish. 

The film, shot on location in the bush, also celebrates the picturesque and lush beauty of the New Zealand wilderness.  While the main protagonists, Ricky Baker and Hec, run from the authorities, live off the land, and thrive together in their shared adventure, the film features the value of bushcraft like camping, hunting and fishing skills, as character building.  The film also features the enriching bond between a boy and his dog and between a man and his dog, as Ricky Baker and Hec are supported by their faithful canine companions for most of their adventure. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2023 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Hunt for the Wilderpeople meaning, Hunt for the Wilderpeople themes, Hunt for the Wilderpeople analysis, Hunt for the Wilderpeople notes