The Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial once common throughout Australia and Papua New Guinea, is believed by many to have been hunted to extinction by the early European settlers of Tasmania, its last stronghold. Others believe that the Tasmanian Tiger survived the attempts at eradication and continues to exist in isolated groups in Tasmania's rugged bushland. [www.tasmanian-tiger.com]
Either ways, this rare elusive animal becomes the centre of a film which will divide opinions. You are going to love it, or, despise it immensely. The Australian film, ‘The Hunter’ (2011), based on the novel by same name by Julia Leigh, directed by Daniel Nettheim, and starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, and Sam Neill, as the name suggests, is not strictly about the Tasmanian Tiger, though the plot revolves around it, but is more about a man’s journey to understand himself and human relationships on the edge of the uncharted Tasmanian landscape.
(Tasmania is an Australian island and state. It is 240 km south of the continent. The state includes the island of Tasmania, the 26th largest island in the world, and the surrounding 334 islands. Tasmania is promoted as the natural state, the "Island of Inspiration", and A World Apart, Not A World Away owing to its large and relatively unspoiled natural environment. Almost 37% of Tasmania lies in reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites. [From Wikipedia])
Though officially the animal is extinct, there has been stray reports of sightings in the island. Now, a top secret military unit wants the DNA sample of the last surviving animal before it is eliminated. Why? Because, the animal contains some kind of rare poison which would be useful to the organisation. The task is given to Martin, a mercenary, which works alone and always delivers. Like all hired guns in films, Martin is a loner and laconic, almost anti-social, who listens to classical music on his iPod, and is obsessive compulsively dedicated to his job. Does he have any qualms about killing the last surviving animal? No. It’s just a job.
As a trained viewer of films, you know, it’s all going to change when the mercenary Martin reaches the uncharted territory of the Tasmanian forest, where the loggers, those in the business of cutting woods are at loggerheads with the greenies, the environmentalists.
While Martin, who introduces himself as a scientists working on the Tasmanian flora, is rejected by the local community, because they think he’s an environmentalist like the earlier scientists, who is now missing, perhaps dead in the jungle, he is welcomed by the family of that missing scientist, his young wife and two children, in a cosy wooden cabin on the edge of the forest.
Martin realises that there’s lot of tension shimmering beneath the calm. But, he doesn’t care about that. He just wants to find that mythical animal, kill it and return. That was not to be so as the two children wins over him in no time, and he begins to develop a feeling for the missing person’s wife. As Martin becomes embroiled in their lives, he unearths some unsavoury truth about the organisation he is working for. And, soon, Martin has to make a choice and find his redemption.
‘The Hunter’ is lucky to get Dafoe in the lead. Any other actor would have floundered the film right away. Dafoe, with his lined face and the lean physique, avoid playing a movie hero, but as a man focused on his job. It was a good decision, as for half of its running time, we see Dafoe alone in the forest tracking the animal, and somehow, Dafoe takes us along in his journey. Also, the cinematography and the unearthly Tasmanian landscape helps. If nothing else, see the film for the scenery. It’s worth the time.
And when the film ends, without much dialogue, and with Dafoe alone in the forest, crying, you are not sure if the film needed to be ended that way, at the halfway point between happy and a tragic ending.
Not a masterpiece but a valiant exercise.