Man of Aran

“Man of Aran” (1934) is Robert J. Flaherty’s stormy love letter to the rugged life on Ireland’s Aran Islands.

The islanders did get a script, but it captures life as it was—or maybe just as Flaherty wished it could be.

Check out “My Review” section below for more on that doc vs. fiction controversy.

Watch “Man of Aran”

You can watch Man of Aran:

…and for free (with ads) here:

You can also stream Man of Aran if you have a subscription at:

Check here for the latest streaming options:

And, if you’re not online (in which case I’m not sure how you can read this, here’s a link to buy the DVD:

My Man of Aran Review

Directed by the acclaimed Robert J. Flaherty, this unique piece hit the screens on April 25, 1934.

It showcases life on the rugged Aran Islands off Ireland’s coast.

It features locals in dramatized sequences. The film runs for 76 minutes, presenting a hybrid narrative that captures both the essence and the embellishments of island life.

Is “Man of Aran” a documentary?

Let’s dive into why “Man of Aran” can be seen as a documentary.

This film isn’t just a sequence of events—it’s Robert Flaherty’s vision of life on the Aran Islands during the 1930s.

Through his lens, we see stark portrayals of daily struggles against a backdrop of severe landscapes and tumultuous seas.

One real aspect is the depiction of men battling high winds and waves as they navigate their tiny currach.

These scenes resonate with the raw truth of their daily fight for survival.

Flaherty captures the relentless challenge of farming in an unforgiving terrain.

For 1,000+ years the locals have searched the crevices of rocks for soil to plant potatoes.

They combine what little soil they find with seaweed to start crops. These are practices rooted in historical truth.

The men’s effort to fix his boat with cloth and tar echoes the genuine ingenuity required to survive on the islands.

Moreover, the cinematography itself documents the wild beauty of Aran.

There’s the powerful imagery of cliffs, storms, and the vast sea.

It paints an authentic picture of the environment that shaped the lives of its inhabitants.

Here, Flaherty’s talent for visual storytelling meets the documentary’s goal to preserve a moment in time.

If you took the people out of the film, it’d be a beautiful documentary of the Aran Islands.

He offers us a window into a world that, while partially staged, is based on real-life conditions and practices.

That’s the argument for it being a documentary.

…Or is “Man of Aran” fiction?

However, “Man of Aran” is not without its fictional overlays.

The most debated aspect is the dramatic shark-hunting sequences.

Flaherty presents these hunts as if they were a regular part of island life.

But the shark hunt had not been true for decades.

The islanders depicted had to be taught to use the harpoons, a skill long forgotten and revived only for the film’s spectacle.

Additionally, the familial relationships shown are entirely constructed.

The casting was based on photogenic qualities rather than actual kinship.

That allowed Flaherty to assembe a picturesque but artificial family unit to appeal to viewers’ emotions.

Scenes like the sudden storm nearly capsizing the fishermen add to the narrative drama.

But they stray from documentary accuracy.

These dramatized elements underscore the film’s role as a piece of ethnofiction. It’s designed to entertain as much as it informs.

Conclusion: A Fusion of Realities

“Man of Aran” stands as a testament to the complexity of categorizing films strictly as documentaries or fiction.

It’s a product of its time, crafted with the intention to captivate and educate.

The truth of “Man of Aran” lies somewhere in between the real and the recreated.

Its enduring legacy is not just the story it tells about the Aran Islands. It’s the discussion it continues to inspire about the nature of filmmaking itself.

By intertwining elements of both documentary and fiction, Flaherty creates a captivating narrative that remains significant in film history.

This blending raises questions about the purity of documentary filmmaking and the allowances for artistic vision.

Ultimately, “Man of Aran” invites us to explore the nuances of how stories are told, remembered, and cherished.

Whether you view it as a true documentary or a crafted narrative, its impact on cinema is undeniable.

Heck, Aran has even become a tourist destination based on the film.

I just checked my Google tool stats and 45 people per month search the term “Man of Aran Cottage” including “Man of Aran Cottage in Inishmore” (Inishmore is the largest of the the three Aran Islands).

And the film’s influence stretches into modern music, highlighted by ‘British Sea Power’s Man of Aran’. The album reinterprets the film’s themes through atmospheric soundscapes.”

How many documentaries (err, films) can claim that influence?

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly

Chief Maniac, Daily Doc