FILMS: The Hunter
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2012:
Starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, & Sam Neill
Directed by Daniel Nettheim
Adapted from novel The Hunter by Julia Leigh.
Porchlight Films, 2011 (Australia). U.S. release on April 6, 2012.
By Wolf Clifton
The Tasmanian tiger, more properly called the thylacine, was a large carnivorous marsupial with tiger-like stripes and a dog-like build. Thylacines dwelt in the forests of Tasmania until hunted to apparent extinction, chiefly by sheep herders who feared predation-although the historical evidence is that thylacines were only an incidental sheep predator. The last thylacine killed in the wild was shot in 1930. The last known thylacine, captured in 1933, was accidentally locked out of his night quarters at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Australia, and died of exposure on September 7, 1936. Founded in 1895, the Beaumaris Zoo had kept thylacines since 1909, and was the only zoo that had them. Without living thylacines to exhibit, the zoo collapsed financially and was permanently closed in 1937.
Occasional thylacine sightings are still reported. To confirm the existence of a surviving thylacine is among the Holy Grail quests of cryptozoologists. The Julia Leigh novel The Hunter, and the film adaptation by Daniel Nettheim, build on the idea that a remnant thylacine population persists. The Hunter film weaves a captivating psychological drama around the hunt for the last thylacine, targeted by a biotech company for the toxin that thylacines are said to use to paralyze prey. In actuality, thylacines were not venomous.
The action is somewhat slow-paced, but emotional depth and beautiful atmospheric cinematography make The Hunter engrossing all the same. The acting by Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill and others is superb throughout. From an animal welfare perspective, however, The Hunter is troubled at best. Numerous wallabies, brush possums, and at least one chicken are killed, both as bait for the thylacine and for human consumption, without any sense of regret on the part of the characters or filmmakers. The thylacine receives more sympathy, as from O’Connor’s character when she laments that, “It’s better off extinct. While it’s alive, people will always want to find it, to hunt it down.”
The ultimate fate of the thylacine is treated in tragic terms, with lavish mourning, but I felt that the tears shed were meant more for the thylacine as a symbol of the people who died in his pursuit than as an animal with intrinsic value of his own, and who is sacrificed to prevent further shedding of human blood. There is a strong environmental theme, revolving mainly around Tasmanian forest logging, but although environmentalism and animal rights sometimes overlap, in this case they do not coincide.