Friday, October 12, 2012

The Hunter

Deliverance (1972) and The Emerald Forest (1985), both directed by John Boorman, loom in the background of The Hunter (2011; dir. Daniel Nettheim).  Several shots in The Hunter directly echo Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography in Deliverance, which contrasts construction work around a dam against the deep lush forest of the North Georgia Appalachian Mountains.  In the 1972 film the measure of the man lay in his silhouette against the trackless woods.  Here the forests are Tasmanian, and the contrast is between the logging companies that harvest the local timber (and give local residents jobs) and the environmentalists and scientists who want to study the forest and keep it pristine.

The specific nature of the contrast in this film is somewhat different, however. An unnamed corporation, represented by men faintly middle-eastern in appearance, are interested in finding the last surviving Tasmanian tiger, which supposedly contains a toxin of potential use in weapons.  The company hires a hunter, played by William Dafoe, to go into the mountains, trap the tiger, and bring its DNA back.  In the process, he meets a Tasmanian family whose husband and father, an environmentalist, has disappeared in the mountains.  Dafoe gradually becomes friends with the family, and undergoes the kind of conversion that one expects from this type of film.

In general much of the film seems not quite fully baked.  The mother has been sleeping, under the influence of drugs (apparently) since her husband’s disappearance six months earlier.  There is some hint that the man who has been assigned to serve as Dafoe’s guide (played by Sam Neill) has been administering the drugs.  But why?  To avoid having her stir up too much attention to her husband’s disappearance?  Because he loves her?  Dafoe is a man who has considerable hunting skills, apparently, but what has he been doing with these skills prior to his agreeing to trap the Tasmanian tiger?  And he apparently has only two hunting tricks up his sleeve—a steel trap and a snare.  He does a lot of walking and a lot of trapping.  He doesn’t mind solitude and sleeping in the forest alone at night.  Where did he come from?  What does he represent?

Obviously, the film asks us to regard Dafoe’s character in some sense as parallel to the Tasmanian tiger, the last of a breed.  This works, in a way, up to the point where he and the tiger come face to face.  The equation then grows a tad confused.

Tasmania is beautifully filmed, and the lush landscape, empty and vast, mirrors the inner mind of Dafoe, who comes to realize that he can no longer be the man he has always been—the hunter—without buying into the destruction of the wilderness that gave his life meaning.

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