May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
November 29, 2011
If you flinch while you watch Tyrannosaur, that is the right response. For an angry person, a flinch is a form of communication. It is a sign that their grievance, nameless as it may be, has been heard and felt by someone else. There isn’t anything therapeutic about the chain of events that results in a flinch; the truly angry person simply can’t help but externalize all those things bubbling beneath the surface. After a while, the causes and effects that result in the breaking of bottles, the shouting match, or the flinch become a sort of unintelligible language that dooms the angry person to alienation. And so the cycle goes.
The flinches in Tyrannosaur begin right after we watch Joe kick his dog to death. We watch him fighting his way through pints. He gets kicked out of the local Ladbrokes. Eventually he ends up in a charity shop obscenely berating the timid manager. Her insistence that as a Christian she will pray for his salvation makes it worse. Despite the meager self-righteousness of her response, we flinch as Joe continues to rage. But then it gets worse, and the flinches increase with severity, as we learn that Hannah is also the victim of someone else’s anger – her life and insistently prosaic faith clouded by something unspeakable enough to even give Joe pause.
As these stories of Joe and Hannah begin to intersect, the film gets a bit wobbly. When it comes to anger and relationships, it usually seems easy to distinguish between victim and victimizer. But in Tyrannosaur this isn’t necessarily the case – which is problematic and unsettling. In situations that involve violence and abuse, especially between man and wife, it becomes easy for us to distinguish morally between the victim and victimizer. But Tyrannosaur is correct in failing to allow us to make these snap judgments. After a certain point (which is really clear), the lines become blurry. Anger and violence continue to erupt in unexpected places. Tyrannosaur becomes a mess in which Joe and Hannah find themselves locked into the same trajectory even if they have entered it from different directions.
I am by no means providing an excuse for anyone in the film. There simply aren’t any. But by displacing our usual forms of judgment, Tyrannosaur grants us access to the hidden mathematics of abuse. Anger and violence do not peter out, as Joe expects, in cycles of shame. Neither do they lose their force, as Hannah expects, in secret. They just accumulate.
Films in which everyone becomes a victim are cliché, but one great final flinch from Joe toward the end of the film cues us into the fact that: Yes, what we have been watching is terrible. I had the sense while watching this that Tyrannosaur was a sort of catharsis for the director, and interviews I have seen with Considine seem to confirm this. In the muddle of Hannah’s Christianity we begin to see that moment at which a history of abuse can rise to break the back of our ability to dissociate faith and practice – the jig is up. Tyrannosaur identifies that arc by which we finally give up holding onto certain beliefs or theological languages simply because we have been trained to believe them. There is a flinch-worthy spot in the film where each character seems to realize: I have thought incorrectly about everything.
While this at first glimpse sounds like a repudiation of Hannah’s Christian faith, it may very well be the opposite. One can see the ripples in the teacup throughout the entire film, something heavy and giant stomping toward the fences of her abusive Christianity. Even if the film only envisions redemption as an elusive possibility, Hannah and Joe finally begin to see what all this anger and abuse actually mean. And there is, at the end, a moment in which neither of them are compelled to flinch.