180 Degrees South

Movie review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
180 Degrees South Movie Poster Image
Eco-minded travel docu inspires serious wanderlust.
  • PG
  • 2010
  • 85 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Get your world map out: this is a great geography lesson, by sea when Jeff's boat visits Easter Island and by land as he travels south in Chile to Patagonia. Plus there are plenty of environmental impact lessons as Chileans fight to keep dams off their rivers and Yvan and Doug work to conserve large swaths of Patagonia. Jerod Diamond's book Collapse is mentioned as a resource for Jeff when he talks about the history behind Easter Island's demise and how it relates to today. Then there's a quote from Aldous Huxley: "Men do not learn much from the lessons of history and that is the most important lesson of history."

Positive Messages

Many pithy quotes throughout for thoughtful travelers and environmentalists. Here are a few: "The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn't even think to ask." "Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all." "Adventure is when everything goes wrong -- that's when the adventure starts." "If you love a place you have a duty to protect it; and to love it you must know it first."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jeff is following his lifelong dream when he heads for Patagonia. He faces adversity in his travels and disappointment over not reaching one of his goals, but is smart enough to realize that he made the right decision. Yvon and Doug are good mentors to Jeff and great examples of stewards of the Earth. There's the term "Dirtbag" bandied about for thrill seekers who work odd jobs only long enough to pay for the next outdoor adventure; some wear the moniker proudly.

Violence & Scariness

A ship mast breaks in the middle of nowhere and is barely recovered by the crew. A climb over loose rocks appears too dangerous.

Sexy Stuff

Each of these is uttered once: "s--t," "bulls--t," "son of a bitch," and "crap." "A--hole" is used a few times in one discussion.


Yvon and Doug are the founders of the sportswear company Patagonia but it's never mentioned and clothing labels aren't visible (though the modest-income climbers seem to be well outfitted). The only real plugs are for environmental causes Sin Represas (Without Dams, sinrepresas.com) and Conservacion Patagonica.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 180 Degrees South is an eco-adventure documentary that works fine for tweens but will probably be a bigger hit with high-minded high schoolers harboring a serious case of wanderlust. For some viewers the eco-message will seem a little heavy handed (especially when omnipresent modern wastefulness is the subject), but a look at the impact of dams on rivers and what local Chileans are working toward may even inspire the non-activist. Of course there's a big geography lesson to be gained on this 10,000-mile trek so get your world map ready. Amidst the learning expect a light sprinkling of swear words and a couple tense travel scenes: a broken mast and a dangerous climb.

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What's the story?

Climber/surfer Jeff Johnson has dreamed of a Patagonian adventure since age 8. He was heavily influenced by a filmed 1968 trek by Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, and friends down the Pan American Highway, all the way south and up a mountain peak in Corcovado. He follows in their footsteps in his own way, hopping aboard a ship to the Chilean coast. When a broken mast sends them to Easter Island for repairs the adventure really starts. He meets the lovely surfing local Makohe who tags along to the Chilean coast, onto Santiago, and south to Patagonia. Yvon and Doug and other skilled adventurers are there waiting with words of wisdom and maps to their climb. They seem ready, but Jeff has never climbed on ice before and the lateness of the season offers other hazards.

Is it any good?

If you don't have a serious case of wanderlust before 180 DEGREES SOUTH, you will afterward. Even if the high-adventure approach is not your thing (that's a whole lot of equipment to carry by yourself up a mountainside!) the scenery is breathtaking. And the tidbits of wisdom on what people get out of travel will take you to a higher plain, imagining days of solitude, journal-writing, and reflection.

It's actually a little disappointing that the film doesn't stay in this lofty headspace, but adding an eco-message in a place like Patagonia definitely makes sense. When viewers meet Chileans who talk directly of the impact of dams, pulp mills, and commercial fishing, that heartfelt approach works best. It's the shaming of city folk for their overconsumerism that feels a bit like they're reaching for an easy stereotype. If you feel lectured at you can quickly take solace in whatever adventure Jeff finds next. The surfing spots alone are to die for.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about "Dirtbags." Kids: Would you like to hop from adventure to adventure on a shoestring budget? What do parents think about that? Do you think Jeff fits the label? Do any of his traveling companions?

  • Jeff faces a major disappointment so close to his goal. Did he make the right decision? What would you have done? Do you think he'll be back?

  • Considering two subjects' ties to a major sportswear company this documentary could have been an easy plug for them. Why do you think they chose never to mention it? How is that unique in media today?

  • Does this documentary encourage you to be more charged up about environmental causes? What did you learn about the environment from this film?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love nature and adventure

Themes & Topics

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