I recently solved a mystery that has nagged at me for over 20 years. The answer to the riddle that has preoccupied me on and off for two-thirds of my life is Dirkie. And the riddle itself came about like this:
Back in the late seventies (I don’t remember the exact year), my family was living in Germany. My parents had gone away on a trip of some sort, and the night that they were due back, I stayed up with my grandmother and watched the single television station available to us back then.
A movie was shown that night. It began with a man, a boy and a dog in a plane over the desert. The plane crashes, something happens to the man, and the boy winds up wandering through the desert alone with his dog. Along the way, he gets stung by a scorpion and becomes delirious. He’s rescued by some tribesmen, but when he wakes up out of his delirium, he thinks that his rescuers have cooked his dog, and he becomes so angry that his rescuers abandon him. I think hyenas enter the picture somewhere along the way, and there may be a snake as well - I’m not sure anymore.
I do remember roughly how the film ended: a search party is sent out after the boy, and when one member of the party (the boy’s father perhaps?) finally finds the limp, dehydrated kid, he scoops the kid up in his arms and fires a shot into the air from his rifle to let the other members of the search party know he has found the boy. If I remember correctly, the final shot in the film is of the man and the boy at the top of an empty sand dune, waiting, alone. At the time, I found this ending ambiguous and unsettling, and I recall that even my parents’ homecoming and the present they gave me upon their return (a ring, I think) didn’t quite shake off the feeling of disquiet with which the film had left me.
That feeling of disquiet has never really gone away (nor has my terror of scorpions, for that matter). Images from the movie - the scorpion, the roasting meat (which isn’t actually the dog, by the way), the final, lonely shot - have haunted me to this day. My feeling of unease has been compounded over the years by the fact that I had absolutely no idea what this movie was called, when it was made or where it was from. As the years passed, I came to believe that it was an Australian film, but a chance conversation with an English friend of mine years ago revealed that he, too, had seen the film as a kid, and while he didn’t know what it was called, he did know that it was South African, not Australian.
Armed with this knowledge, I later searched the Internet for some clue as to what the film was - to no avail. Until just two days ago. Two days ago, I went back to the Internet Movie Database (which I know I scoured ages ago for a clue as to this movie’s title), and after a bit of poking around, I found it: Dirkie, or Lost in the Desert, as it was called in America. Directed in South Africa in 1969 by Jamie Uys, the man who also directed The Gods Must Be Crazy.
When I followed the link on the IMDB site through to the viewer comments and realized that this was, in fact, it, the film that has stuck in my memory for so many years, I uttered a stunned, “Oh. My. God.” I’d almost come to believe that I had simply imagined the movie, or maybe even dreamed it, so when I saw the hard proof of its existence there on my computer screen, it was something of a shock to the system. My memory hadn’t deceived me. I couldn’t believe that other people had apparently had the same experience I had with this film. And I really couldn’t believe that my search was over.
I’m absolutely thrilled to have solved this little puzzle. It’s not some major revelation, and the mystery hasn’t exactly consumed me over the years, but it did always niggle away in a corner of my mind whenever I found myself pondering the things from my childhood that left a truly lasting impression on me. It was always there in my memory as a curiosity, an unexplained phenomenon, a big question mark. Funnily enough, though the mystery of the movie’s title has been solved, the uneasy feeling the film left me with has not abated - for which I’m actually thankful. Sometimes solving the mystery of something takes the magic away from it. I’m happy that Dirkie’s magic has remained intact.