Say what you like about Roger Ebert, but the guy is probably doing more to turn me on to movies I haven’t seen these days than anybody else. Such was surely the case with Tyrannosaur, a darling of British film critics last year. I finally got around to seeing it this weekend, and I was immediately struck by this film, unrelenting and grim, full of all the kinds of reality you’d rather with would be swept away by a Hollywood ending. i understand that this movie spurred one critic to raise the funds for it to get a single screening in the U.S. so it might be eligible for the Academy Awards. I also understand that when this film’s lead actress was overlooked for a BAFTA nomination, the outrage suddenly got her and this movie globally trending on Twitter.
Tyrannosaur is the story of a man who kicks his dog to death in a fit of rage, within the first sixty seconds of the movie. This story isn’t so much about the fact that he kicked his dog to death. It’s that he is a guy who has been such a slave to his own rage that this one crime is just the latest in a lifetime of emotional destruction, seemingly wrought without premeditation. Or without any kind of meditation at all, really. We aren’t given much to know about our protagonist: he is an aging widower. He lives in pubs. He gets pissed and smashes things. He wakes up. He repeats the process. He lives among those who find his very presence an invitation to conflict. It is one he would gladly accept. That is his problem, and his challenge. That he would address his own flawed nature would be a given in any lesser movie. That he might even be allowed to is the mark of this one, and our story is made all the more compelling because of it.
What happens next is really best left for the viewer to discover on their own. The death of the dog is hardly even mentioned again throughout the rest of the film, but it sets a dark tone that hovers over everything and gives this kind of movie the right kind of context. We hate seeing dogs get hurt in films – or we consign hard to dogs to villains only – because for the most part, dogs are those creatures whose loyalty is so great that they will forgive any mistreatment. At least, that’s what we like to tell ourselves. But they do snap, and when they do, they don’t ever unsnap. They just stay broken inside somewhere, being broken and breaking other things. The same is true of people. In Tyrannosaur, we find ourselves watching the story of a man who has destroyed the only thing in the world ready to forgive him unconditionally, and in so doing, he finds others who do not even have that luxury. It’s not that some have it better that others, his movie seems to tell us without even trying. If only more films showed such confidence in their story to tell it in such spare and uncompromising terms.
I puzzled over this movie’s title, and I let it lead me to believe that this movie would be a far tidier avenging angel movie than it turned out to be. Tyrannosaur…an apex predator whose greatest days were at the end of its own era, a supposed king of the monsters whose own vulnerability was as misunderstood as it was unexpected until long after its own demise. Is this what we are to make of this film? Not at all. By the time the movie’s title is explained, we all know that whatever run-of-the-mill expectations we might have brought into this movie, they will have been long cast aside. This is a movie that offers no easy outs, no tidy resolutions, no message on which to hang romantic notions that somehow life can be better for everybody. It cannot. And this movie reminds us of that, even while admitting that for some, among life’s harsh cruelties, there still can be redemption. There still can be things worth fixing, even if they are never really fixed.
MAG Score: 8/10