The only thing more remarkable than the pure Canadian-ness of the movie One Week is that it manages to be a watchable movie despite easily doubling as propaganda from the Canadian tourism board. The film is about one man’s journey (Joshua Jackson, Canadian) across the country from Toronto to the Pacific on a motorcycle after he finds out he has stage four cancer. [Ed: Pacey, heartbroken, dying, sign me up] Along the way, he gets advice from a strange biker (Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, who I wrote about last week, who is liquid Canadian), witnesses First People’s ritual at totem poles in BC (whose tribes are the original Canadians), and only decides to take the trip after getting an idea from a Tim Horton’s cup (the official food of Canada).
His fiancé even has an encounter with a busker in Toronto who happens to be the lead singer of the big-in-Canada band Thrush Hermit. The Stanley Cup makes a cameo in this movie. It’s the most Canadian thing ever created, and it’s not surry about it. For a country that’s usually too modest to show this much national pride, it’s quite an accomplishment.
The strange thing is that, around the time this movie was made (although I wasn’t aware of it until years later), I made a similar trip, but in the reverse direction, in a compact car, and because I had just been granted dual citizenship and wanted to explore my new half-homeland. The first thing I learned was that driving cross-country is not something people do in Canada. There is a single main highway, Highway 1. It is mostly two lanes and runs north of almost anywhere populated. It is as though one of the small highways in New England that becomes Main Street™ whenever it goes through a town was actually Interstate 90. Google does not recommend this route; if you look up the “quickest” way from Vancouver to Toronto, it will tell you to drive down to 90 and then drive north again in upstate New York.
The other quick lesson I learned was that Canada is an unbelievably beautiful country. Starting in the West, their Rockies make ours look like pimples, and Lake Louise is a blue you can’t find anywhere else in nature.
It was spring and all the roads were open, so I got to drive through my grandmother’s birthplace of Winnipeg. I drove in the sweet spot between the frozen winter and the buggy summer, and while there was lots of prairie that could’ve doubled for any stretch of Kansas or Indiana, the road mostly follows low marshes filled with moose (and, along Lake Superior, which was also gorgeous, a lone baby bear).
After a while, I realized that one of the big reasons a lot of people don’t drive across Canada is because there aren’t a lot of Canadians, period. As it was memorably noted in Canadian Bacon, 90% of the population still lives within 100 miles of the US border, so when you get further north, it’s unbelievable wilderness. Vancouver and Toronto are great cities, but the forgotten space in between contains so much beauty, so the fact that One Week actually showcases that land and isn’t a terrible movie (and was a huge success in Canada) is extra satisfying.
I’m not a huge fan of the film’s cutesy-putesy, Amelie-like narration provided by the film’s one major not-Canadian, Campbell Scott, or the fairly cheesy story device that the narration serves (Pacey is dying, Canada is his bucket list). But if the film’s style lacks originality, its still a truly unique piece of work in that it’s a rare example of Canadian pride. At the end of the film, when tourists tell our protagonist that Canada is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, he unabashedly agrees. And that this point, we do, too.
Credit, from top: Wikipedia, Flickr user cai~cai~