Saturday, June 5, 2010

Wolfman: Wolf-man, actor-man, lover-man, insane-man; too many men for one man to play.

Transformative contagion plots (vampires, zombies, werewolves) have experienced a boom over the past decade. This has been attributed to everything from a fear of home grown terrorism (the "terrorist next door" mentality) to a regression in our demand for complexity in popular narrative from Bush-era politics (good vs. bad, with or against etc). So, what does an Obama-era contagion plot look like? Here, a lot like his policies: visionary, but proving exceeding difficult to execute.

Joe Jackson’s leading lycanthrope (so perfectly cast: Benicio Del Toro) is overwritten and under explored. Half British aristocracy, half Roma; born in England, raised in America; half man, half wolf, there is too much plot for one character to carry. As a whole, this is what the film suffers from: a lack of focus in its themes. The evident theme, collapsed space between man and beast, is played out along side an Oedipal revenge quest which overshadows a puritan love story, which almost makes it, only to be eclipsed by a long critique on Victorian mental institutions/cruelty of man. This is not helped by the heavy handed (pawed?) visuals of Jackson, which come off as campy, rather than subtlety fueling these themes: the patriarchal werewolf (Anthony Hopkins) draped in a tiger fur trimmed jacket (we get it, he’s connected to nature). Indeed, the film opens with Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) delivering Hamlet’s “Poor Yorik” monologue. So one really only needs to see the first thirty seconds to get the full plot (doomed man with Mother-Father issues).

Despite the clunky visuals there is something of note in the narrative’s navigation of space, as characters zoom back and forth between London and Blackmoor. The real terror, like that in Stoker’s Dracula, is the monster’s ability to navigate both spaces with ease. In a neo-Hitchcockian way, the police are positioned as lost in both the urban and the rural. When Scotland Yard arrives, personified by Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving), Lawrence remarks: “Weren’t you in charge of the ripper case a few years back?” Abberline may as well be holding Yorik’s skull, for the viewer now knows he is just as doomed as Lawrence.

Another redeeming quality is that Wolfman locates the source of the contagion/terror outside the urban centre: there is no escape to the idyllic country side. In fact, there is no escape. The country, Blackmoor, is filled with racial hatred (towards the Roma) and the cities with monstrous men wielding PhDs. The final shot hovers between these two spaces, where at a distance the Talbot’s ancestral manor burns. The camera, like the characters, can find no safe space, as Jackson’s world is one not fit for man or beast.

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