The Last Lions
Directed by Dereck Joubert. Narrated by Jeremy Irons. (2011, PG, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 18, 2011
This nature documentary about the vanishing lions of Africa is not your children’s Lion King. The film opens by informing us that 50 years ago there were approximately 450,000 lions in Africa; today that number is closer to 20,000. Apart from those cold statistics, The Last Lions doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. Joubert lets his footage speak for itself: The majesty and intelligence of these creatures is on full display and serves as a constant reminder of what is being lost as population growth encroaches on the lions’ hunting grounds and habitat. Joubert’s camerawork in Botswana’s Okavango Delta is astonishingly up-close and vivid as he shapes a story around the lives of a lioness named Ma di Tau and her three cubs. As we’re told by narrator Irons, life here is “harsh” and “violent but never malicious.” That last part about malice is important because The Last Lions is the rare nature documentary that doesn’t completely anthropomorphize its animals (but neither is it completely free of that tendency). Despite this, the film still manages to make us understand the lions’ instinctive behaviors and learned experiences, while also allowing us to feel deeply for this particular lion family. And when we learn things about animals, we also learn things about the human species. It calls to mind those images of Tony Soprano parked on his living room sofa lost in watching nature documentaries and discovering certain truths about the laws of the wild. I think Tony would have liked this movie.