Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Hunter (2011)

THE HUNTER                        B
Australia  (100 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Daniel Nettheim                Official site

Most probably couldn’t find Tasmania on a map, but it’s located about 150 miles due south of Australia, where nearly 40% of the island is an unspoiled natural environment, a protected park and wilderness reserve and one of the World Heritage Sites.  It makes for a unique setting to shoot a film that dwells in the interior forests chasing a mythical animal, the Tasmanian tiger, the last one in the early 1930’s can be seen here:  Last Tasmanian Tiger, Thylacine, 1933 - YouTube (42 seconds), now believed extinct, though science has a vested interested in tracking one down.  It’s not science, however, but the monetary greed of a pharmaceutical company that secretly hires a mercenary hunter, Martin Davis (Willem Dafoe), to obtain evidence that such an animal still exists in the wild, which could bring in astronomical prices, as these mythical animals are rumored to have properties that can save humans from life-threatening disease.  With this in mind, Martin sets out for the outback, renting a room from a farmhouse on the outskirts of the nearest town.  While Martin is all business, keeping his emotions continually in check, he can’t help but notice the state of filth and disarray in the home, where the mother spends all her time in bed while the two children run free, the talkative Sass (Morgana Davies) and her mute little brother Bike (Finn Woodlock), decidedly more shy.  Apparently their father left for the woods on a naturalist expedition but never returned.  When Martin goes into town to seek a room elsewhere, he’s greeted with a seething hostility, where outsiders are definitely not appreciated and urged to get out of town as soon as possible.  With that in mind, he decides to clean up the place and make it minimally habitable before venturing into the wild.  Initially he is guided into the outskirts of the wilderness by Jack (Sam Neill), a local who looks in on the family from time to time, helping cross the picket line of angry loggers who guard the forest entrance, put out of work by environmental protests from “greenies,” who they actively despise, associating Martin with their camp, as he’s allegedly a university scientist come to study the habits of the Tasmanian devils, a raccoon-like animal the size of a small dog, believed to be the largest carnivorous marsupial, exceeded only by Tasmanian tigers, which are larger, wolf-like creatures.

The film is an adaptation of Julia Leigh’s first novel, the author who wrote and directed the baffling Sleeping Beauty (2011) starring Emily Browning.  Both works are obsessions of sorts, where this is more of a Moby Dick adventure, where a specialized hunter is sent in for the kill, spending all his time scouring the landscape, shooting animals for food, setting up traps, taking photos, and looking for signs of the tigers, where he makes multiple visits into the wild, beautifully shot in ‘Scope by Robert Humphreys, featuring exquisitely chosen music from Dvorak, Handel, and Vivaldi, among others, and a great sound design.  Initially Martin discovers troubling signs of cameras apparently designed to study his path, where it’s clear he was being watched as well, his vehicle’s lights and windows smashed upon his return with feces spread across his windshield telling him to go home.  With each successive visit, the wordlessness of his experience in the woods is shattered by the ever talkative Sass upon his return, where it’s impossible not to take notice of these kids, who follow him everywhere, and are extremely well developed characters, never rising to the level of stereotype.  He helps their mother Lucy (Frances O’Connor) get back on her feet, weaning her off the excessive doses of psychotropic medicine, where in a surprisingly uplifting moment, he finally gets the broken generator working again, which turns the lights and electricity on, where the sounds of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” The Hunter (2011) - I'm on Fire - YouTube (2:12) awakes the sleeping mother who erroneously thinks her husband has returned.  The film beautifully interweaves the intensity of each section, where he continually learns more information about each of the two worlds.  The drama here is exacerbated by the ferocity of the antagonism associated with exploring the wild, as Martin learns the kid’s father was on the same mission before he disappeared, while at the same time, Martin entered the film with no family connection, no back story whatsoever, but clearly disconnected from the family of man, where the coming to life of this little dysfunctional family awakens something deep inside him as well. 

The question of man’s disturbance of the primitive world has long been the subject of fascination, where Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness may best define the lurking darkness that prevails the deeper one explores uncharted and unspoiled territory, which has long defined a darkness within ourselves as well that shadows good and evil, each a shaded reflection of the other.  Similarly, Martin’s journey has severe ramifications, where if he delivers what’s asked of him, it will only line the pocketbooks of the greedy, much like the original colonial empires that harvested riches from colonial nations, where they will pay plenty to obtain what they want, actually sending another hunter when Martin doesn’t act swiftly enough, to cover their concerns, forcing Martin to at least explore an alternative path that prevents them from ever getting what they want.  Caught in this existential dilemma, where there are continuing threats of violence at every level, as everyone associated with the forest region feels threatened, as the loggers are out of work, unable to feed their families, blaming the environmentalists who simply wish to protect the land, while corporate interests have their own invading raiders who threaten to steal the last of a possibly extinct species.  Every avenue feels slightly shortchanged by the end, as they are all blended together into the mix, but there’s a bleak road staring at him from each direction.  There’s little chance of redemption, as he’s supposedly the master thief who can outmaneuver and outsurvive any other plunderer they send into the wilderness, where the man to man battle of the big game hunters has a fairly contrived feel to it, ultimately, and is the weakest link, where after all is said and done, he still has to grapple with the ghost of a potentially extinct species staring him in the face.  Meanwhile, the journey to remain connected to the family of man is fraught with perhaps even greater dangers and risks than he has ever known, having to improvise and redefine his entire mission in life, something completely foreign to him.  The film offers horrifying consequences, where destruction is the only sure path man feels familiar with.  The rest is all unknown        

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