WILDLIFE is Compellingly Transcendent

Editors Note: Wildlife won Best Film at the Torino film Festival after the original publishing of this review.

Paul Dano’s directorial debut, so far gained appreciation from the public and critics at festivals such as Toronto and BFI. The same occurred during the screening of his Wildlife, at the 36th Torino Film Festival, where spectators burst into applause as soon as the credits started rolling.

The film, co-written by Dano and his partner Zoe Kazan, is set in Montana during the 60s and follows the undoing of a marriage through the eyes of a sensitive fourteen-year old, Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould). The boy lives with his mother Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) and his father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a peaceful, small town. The quiet tension between the couple builds up gradually, through the mundane failures of a husband and his wife’s repressed restlessness.

The Mulligan-Gyllenhaal duo is a chameleonic portent, and the way they live their characters is remarkable. Dano moves his camera around them with discretion, through the point of view of an adolescent, who witnesses with bewilderment his father losing his job and becoming a volunteer fireman, leaving his family behind. Joe further confronts the intricacy of family bonds, when he is an impotent bystander of his mother’s attempts to adapt to her new life, as she gives into the advances of a wealthy man. The youngest of the household turns out to be the most mature, but is never judgmental towards his parents who shatter his idyllic idea of family.

One of the most prominent actors of our times (who has worked with directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Kelly Reichardt, Denis Villeneuve, Steve McQueen, and Paolo Sorrentino), proves to shine also behind the camera. Dano’s adaption of the powerful novel by Richard Ford, Wildlife, is compellingly transcendent.

Paul Dano’s film is a modern exemplification of the Anna Karenina principle, that was epitomized by Leo Tolstoy’s quote “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Brinsons portray the idea that in order to be happy, a family must be successful in a range of criteria, such as sexual attraction, money issues, parenting, religion, in-laws. Failure on only one of these leads to unhappiness. And they fail in more than one aspect and, consequently get enveloped in a nebulous overbearing gloom.

The muffled malaise is buried by a crescendo of turbulence, that eventually detonates, leaving audiences with an uncanny feeling. The unravelling of the family’s troubles in Wildlife, thus evokes Plato’s theory, according to which most of us do not conduct our lives from a place of moral enlightenment, since all good things are more fragile than the bad ones.