It is the inevitable encounter in a John Boorman film: a man of the world and a nature boy face each other through the rushing curtain of a waterfall. The man, with machine gun poised to fire, represents civilization and its discontents; the boy, his bow and arrow taut, seems very much the noble savage painted in jungle pastels. In Deliverance, Zardoz, Exorcist II: The Heretic and Excalibur, Boorman set these same elemental antagonists, intellect and instinct, on a collision course. Here, though, he has added a crucial twist. Tomme (Charley Boorman) is the man's son, abducted by a Brazilian Indian tribe a decade earlier and raised as a wild child. For Tomme, his father (Powers Boothe) has existed only in the still pools of memory; now he is a dream patriarch for this young Tarzan of the Id.
However exotic the plot, it seizes on a basic parental fear: losing one's child to drugs or suicide or a religious cult or ordinary adolescent independence. But Boorman, a 52-year-old wild child who combines lush visual sophistication with the oneiric storytelling sense of a Hyde Park ranter, will always opt for youth's reckless hurtle into the unknown. In his forest, the prime evil is civilized man, and "back to nature" is a great leap forward. So the father in this dizzy, rapturous adventure picture must allow Tomme to do his own thing; indeed, he must destroy the part of civilization he has erected in order to let his son live a few more years in innocence. Boorman's triumph is to reclaim, for himself and the viewer, that Edenic state where domestic tragedy takes on the sheen of myth, and where art is its own purging adventure: baptism by film. --By Richard Corliss