Reviews

The Wolfman

The Wolfman reframes the werewolf legend -- so weighty with communal perversity and collective guilt -- so that it's all about a very bad dad.


The Wolfman

Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin, Cristina Contes
Rated: R
Studio: Universal
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-02-12 (General release)
UK date: 2010-02-12 (General release)
Website
Trailer
The past is a wilderness of horrors.

-- Sir John (Anthony Hopkins)

Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) makes her first appearance in The Wolfman in the dark. Her face gaunt and mascara heavy, she's the local gypsy lady, on scene to provide helpful background information to Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro). Lawrence has returned to Blackmoor, England in 1891 in order to investigate the recent death of his brother Ben. He approaches Maleva when he hears that Ben was a "liaison" to the gypsy camp, hoping she'll know something about the exceptionally gruesome state of his corpse.

Unsurprisingly, Maleva tends to speak in riddles. Also unsurprisingly, Lawrence tends not to listen very carefully. When he wonders how Ben came to be wandering in the misty woods on the night his flesh was apparently ripped from his bones, Maleva tells him, "There is no coincidence, only Lady Fate. And she plays with a hidden hand."

As Lawrence ponders this flake of wisdom, you can see how it lays out the premise of The Wolfman. The movie doesn't bother much with causes and effects (a likely effect of the reported re-edits and reshoots). Instead, it reframes the werewolf legend -- so weighty with communal perversity and collective guilt -- so that it's all about a very bad dad.

When Lawrence returns to the gothic manse still inhabited by his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), he seems undaunted by its rampant disrepair. The stonewalls look craggy, rats and bats squeal as soon as he enters, and winds and dry leaves course through the shadowy hallways. Accompanied by a huge black and very vocal dog, Sir John proclaims, "The prodigal son returns." Again, Lawrence looks unimpressed. Their conversation reveals that Sir John not only resents Lawrence's success (he's a celebrated stage actor, renowned for playing Shakespeare), but also his return. Now that Ben is gone, Sir John and Lawrence have no buffer between them, and so they will have to excavate their shared past.

This process begins with Lawrence's memories of his childhood traumas, especially his discovery of his dead mother, cradled in Sir John's arms as her neck gapes open, apparently slit with a straight razor. Instructed as a child that his mother committed suicide, little Lawrence (Mario Marin-Borquez) suffered a breakdown, at which point his father reportedly sent him to an asylum and then on to America to live with an aunt. He might have stayed away, except that he's been summoned by Ben's fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt). Looking at the Talbots from the outside, she thinks that discovering how and why Ben died is a worthy effort.

"This place is impossible to escape," Gwen observes one morning while she contemplates Lawrence's ravaged visage. She's got it half-right, as the Talbot Estate is Ground Zero for all manner of legends, nightmares, and conventional moralisms. The other half of the problem is, of course, the men with whom she's become entangled -- so much so, apparently, that she's ready to fall into Lawrence's arms almost as soon as Ben is buried. It hardly matters that Gwen is unmotivated; the point is to keep Lawrence in town, against all emotional and psychological logic.

But the important logic here, as Maleva has indicated, is that ordained by fate (that is, movie-plotting). Once he becomes a werewolf, Lawrence is less transformed than he is more himself, excessively, incessantly himself. Much like Lon Chaney's 1941 version of Lawrence Talbot, this one is morose and angry. He makes these feelings vividly visible in the werewolf attack scenes, which are -- for all the talk about dad and mom -- the film's raison d'être. Following each requisite transformation scene -- close-ups of fingers distending, feet bursting from shoes, teeth popping out of his jaw (have such FX really advanced so little since Thriller?), wolfman Lawrence heads out on a brutal spree. He tears off limbs and rips out intestines, slices off heads and galumphs over rooftops (these galumphing scenes are especially unconvincing, rendered alternately in heaving close-ups and 2Dish long shots). Though he feels empowered by this new role (his own wounds heal swiftly, his blood pounds), Lawrence has a lingering feeling that butchering people isn't exactly a healthy avocation.

Even if he wants to be caught, though, Lawrence is up against a bunch of dunderheads, representing the usual institutions. He's plainly smarter than raging Reverend Fisk (Roger Frost), who excoriates sinners and devils in dire close-ups, and slow-to-move Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving), the man, Lawrence dolefully notes, who was "in charge of the Ripper case a few years back." And he's ethically advantaged over the doctor who tortures him by way of treating his "delusions," Hoenneger (Anthony Sher), a case underlined by montages of his methods: straitjackets, electric shock, ice-water dunks, beatings, penetrations. By the time the doctor meets his plainly predestined end, it's both too late and disturbingly apposite.

Of course, Hoenneger is just a stand in for Sir John ("Where's my father?" Lawrence wails throughout his abuses). The son's violence is also the father's even though neither wants quite to lay claim to the other. If Sir John acknowledges that his "young pup" is unhappy with their horrific shared past, he proposes that they both accept, together, the future made possible by Lawrence's new form. Dad argues in favor of freeing the "cursed and the damned," those humans he sees as superior precisely because they are monsters -- extreme and essentially beyond control. "The beast will have its day, the beast will out," Sir John declares, while Lawrence, once again, looks miserable. Much as he resists, he only keeps running into the cliché Maleva named at the start: he's doomed by Lady Fate... and oh yes, his dad.

4

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image