IIrgu is an elder from the Siberian Yupik Eskimo village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. As two grandchildren listen, IIrgu recounts events in Gambell from the time the first missionaries arrived. His story is known as an ungipamsuk or true historical narrative. With ambivalent feelings, he describes more recent changes -- how whaling practices have changed, how life has become easier, but also how younger generations are losing touch with the old ways.
Ford plays an American doctor whose wife suddenly vanishes in Paris. To find her, he navigates a puzzling web of language, locale, laissez-faire cops, triplicate-form filling bureaucrats and a defiant, mysterious waif who knows more than she tells.
Jesus (Willem Dafoe), a humble Judean carpenter beginning to see that he is the son of God, is drawn into revolutionary action against the Roman occupiers by Judas (Harvey Keitel) -- despite his protestations that love, not violence, is the path to salvation.