One of the greatest pleasures of being an avid film lover is discovering those overlooked gems. The Tasmanian-set Australian allegory The Hunter (directed by Daniel Nettheim) is one such film.
The titular character is a man with no back-story played by Willem Dafoe in what is ironically the peculiar actor’s richest role since portraying Jesus in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. His Martin David is a man tempted by necessity to track and capture the elusive Tasmanian Tiger (thought to be extinct) by a stereotypically evil corporation (Red Leaf – echoing the Weyland Corporation alluded to in The Grey and the driving force in Prometheus) looking to unlock the secrets of the beast’s DNA and its alleged paralyzing toxins.
The cresting and rolling landscape of Tasmania (which can only be described by this ignorant American as a cross between the Smoky Mountains and a tropical rainforest) are on display in a coldly haunting way. The hills seem cut off and without an apex – as if Mother Nature came down with the wind and shaved off the peaks with a butter knife. David becomes the lodger of an environmentalist widow (the elusively alluring Frances O’Connor) with two young children (the endearingly naturalistic Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock) and is guided into the Tasmanian wilderness by Sam Neil.
Apart from the beautiful cinematography and understated performances, The Hunter is a film of small unique pleasures. It not only features one of the most creative uses of a Bruce Springsteen song (“I’m on Fire”), but it also delivers a scene of classical music blasting through speakers lodged in towering trees. Like the other cinematic high points of 2012 thus far (The Grey and The Dark Knight Rises) The Hunter appears to apply symbolism with a sledgehammer on the surface – yet it adds layers in a paradoxically subtextual way – mirroring Mother Nature’s treatment of Tasmania. The theme of protecting nature/elusive beauty is apparent, but there’s a surprisingly sentimental coda following what one thought was the climax (involving a cabin fire) that played with my heartstrings in an unexpected way.
The film appears cold…detached. Again…Martin David is not gifted with a back-story apart from his love of classical music and opera – to which the little girl keeps asking “What is she singing about?” But he is gifted with redemption and a future. There is a scattering of ashes. There is a cathartic reunion. And if the closing scene proves anything – it’s that human beings are the most delicate of creatures deserving of protection and companionship. No one should be left in the wilderness alone. And no one – tiger or man or woman or child – should be coveted.
The Hunter is a song – an opera cut off before its high note like the mountains of Tasmania without a peak – disguised as a Man vs. Nature film. Along with this year’s The Grey, it is one of the very best cinematic examples of Man vs. His Own Nature.
Written by David H. Schleicher