The Fruit Hunters
Directed by Yung Chang
Based on the book by Adam Gollner
Adapted by Yung Chang, Mark Slutsky, and Mila Aung-Thwin
Available to stream on Netflix
The Fruit Hunters is a refreshingly unconventional documentary–a mishmash of literary yarn-spinning, bizarre reenactments, fascinating history, and a delicious lineup of fruity imagery. Right from the opening titles we are treated to a mesmerizing display of so many strange, exotic, and eyebrow-raising fruits. Papaya, banana, dragon fruit, lychee, durian–they’re all there, along with some others I don’t know the names of. There are fruits that look like reptiles, others that look completely alien, and some that look like, well, I’ll just say they resemble certain body parts.
Fruit is often described as being erotic or sexual. It is after all the ripened ovary of a plant. So we eat their reproductive bodies every day, or at least we should (eat your fruit, kids). The opening narration, which I believe is straight from the source material, speaks about being aroused by fruit. I can’t connect to that myself. I’m the kind of guy that gets twitterpated at the sight of an oozing slice of pizza, not a slice of mango. But I watched the subjects of this documentary, and as they devoured their precious fruits, I saw a common look in their eyes. Lust. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. These people crave fruit. They’re completely caught up in the heat of passion when they see a ripened mango drooping from a tree, or when they get a glimpse of juicy orange flesh peeking out from beneath it’s peel.
Like I said, I’m not a huge fruit fan, but I did find my appetite swelling during parts of this movie. The colors are hypnotizing and the sounds of the fruit being peeled and eaten are tantalizing. But the best part is the description of the fruit. Hearing these people talk about their taste sensations is kind of like a poem. And let me tell you, it’s a love poem for sure. These people are crazy about fruit. One guy says, “When you’re in the bowels of a mango tree, it’s like being in your mother’s arms.” And I don’t think he was joking.
The Fruit Hunters covers a lot of ground in its hour and a half run time. We go to Borneo, Honduras, Hawaii, Indonesia, and many other exotic locations. But perhaps the most interesting story takes place right in California, in the Hollywood Hills. It turns out that actor Bill Pullman is himself a fruit hunter. His backyard is a diverse orchard of fruity delights, but for him it’s not enough. In an effort to extend his passion, he teams up with other members of his neighborhood to start a public orchard on an empty plot of land nearby. I found these portions of the story to be incredibly optimistic, focusing on the future of fruit and the power it can have to shape communities. Another documentary on Netflix, called Urban Fruit, goes into more detail on the subject of community farming, and I suggest you check that one out as well.