Wolf

Wolf

2021, R, 95 min. Directed by Nathalie Biancheri. Starring George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Fionn O'Shea, Senan Jennings, Darragh Shannon, Elisa Fionur.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 3, 2021

"For he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." That often-abused quote, attributed to Samuel Johnson, is really not about animals at all. The writer was musing on why humans indulge their baser instincts. But what if those animalistic passions and callings could be seen as the true nature, and cruelty and gluttony are two-legged flaws?

In Wolf, the uncomfortable character study by Nathalie Biancheri (Nocturnal), Jacob truly believes that he is a wolf. Or rather, that he should be. What he sees and feels is not right: His nose too short to be a snout, his fingers too soft for pads, his thighs too bony to be haunches. That's why he's been sent to a medical facility to get better, to be as human on the inside as he is outside.

Superficially, Wolf may seem like an entry into the queer canon, and it's not hard to see superficial similarities between the facility and a gay conversion therapy facility, or to superimpose transphobia onto Jacob's diagnosis of species dysphoria. But Biancheri isn't trying for some overt, one-for-one metaphor, meaning this also isn't a furry story, or a stealthy lycanthropic tale. It's broader, more amorphous and opaque, a questioning of identity within societal constraints, of what it takes to fit in, and asking at what point one rejects the limits of normal because it's impossible to comply. At the same time, there's no easy liberation. The other residents are incapable of functioning within human society, but need its support system to survive.

If that makes it seem like there are no easy answers here, it's because there are none to be found in this bleak and restrained drama. Biancheri doesn't romanticize the plight of the patients, nor does the story homogenize them. Species dysphoria is only a name, and it's hard to see the connection between Jacob and the boy who thinks he's a squirrel, or the girl who mocks the medical staff by a parrot's mimicry. Maybe there's some kinship with the wildcat (Depp), who seems most at odds with the strictures of humanity.

And how could the bipedal existence seem alluring when it's represented by Paddy Considine as one of the staff. Nicknamed the zookeeper, his cruelty is extraordinary, and Considine's stomach-churning performance would fit perfectly into Alan Clarke's still-unmatched depiction of British institutional brutality, Scum. Yet it's really MacKay's physicality that makes what Biancheri intends so clear. As the shellshocked runner in Sam Mendes' Great War epic 1917, he was a ghost, a shade of a man. Here he's skin over fur, at odds with his inner nature. It's a dance of meaning and inner conflict, one that must have placed impossible burdens on his body, and one that is impeccably captured by cinematographer Michal Dymek. It's in his hollow eyes and the roll of his shoulder that MacKay sums up the choices Jacob faces. Johnson, it seems, was wrong. It's not about getting rid of pain. It's about choosing which kind to endure.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More George MacKay Films
1917
World War I drama shows heroism in saving, not taking, lives

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 10, 2020

Where Hands Touch
Interracial romance against the rise of Nazi Germany

Sept. 14, 2018

More by Richard Whittaker
Sundance Review: <i>Lucy and Desi</i>
Sundance Review: Lucy and Desi
Inside the relationship that defined an era of TV

Jan. 26, 2022

Rooster Teeth's RTX Fan Convention Returns in July
Rooster Teeth's RTX Fan Convention Returns in July
Celebration of the local streamers back after two years online

Jan. 26, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Wolf, Nathalie Biancheri, George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Fionn O'Shea, Senan Jennings, Darragh Shannon, Elisa Fionur

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle