When I first saw the trailer for Wolf, I found the concept interesting. The idea of people who think they are animals sounded like an intriguing idea, especially if it explored why they felt different. I also wanted to see Lily-Rose Depp and see what she was capable of in her performance. After watching the film, I found the performances compelling and engaging. The exploration of identity was equally evocative. The message is heavy-handed, however, the film is slow, and some of the scenes are very difficult to watch.
Wolf is an Irish-Polish drama film, written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri. The film is about a young man, Jacob (George MacKay) who has a condition called species dysphoria. He believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body. He’s sent to a clinic that’s run by a therapist, Dr. Mann, called the “Zookeeper” who uses extreme “curative” therapies. Jacob struggles with his true nature alongside the chaos of the Zookeeper’s methods all while forging a connection with a young woman, Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp). But will his connection with Wildcat prevent him from fully embracing his nature?
One of the first elements I appreciated in this film is the way it explores identity, especially by the young people in the film who feel they are animals rather than humans. Species dysphoria is a real condition that is similar but not completely like gender dysphoria. For example, unlike gender dysphoria, there is no way for the human to look like the animal they feel like they are nor is there as much clinical information on the condition. There is also no real therapy or solutions for those who deal with this identity. What the film did beautifully is to explore how these individuals feel, their emotions, and the mental health issues involved, including depression and anxiety over being different from others. It also explores some of the stigma, disbelief, and disdain surrounding the condition. And while that attitude is difficult to watch, it is well articulated and explored in the film.
Other aspects that are well handled are the performances. Not only the two leads, George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp but the other young people in the film embrace their animal sides, including but not limited to, Fionn O’Shea who plays Rufus who believes he is a German Shepherd, and Lola Petticrew as Judith who is a Parrot. All four actors display traits in common with the animals, George MacKay standing like a wolf or growling, Fionn O’Shea holding his head in submission or whining. Lily-Rose Depp hisses and scratches like a cat and Lola Petticrew embraces feathers, even dressing as a parrot. The way each of them embraces their role is real and believable.
Beyond the portrayal of the animal aspects, there are the performances, the dynamics between the actors. George MacKay as Jacob and Lily-Rose Depp have a beautiful and profound connection, a chemistry that flows leaps off the screen. When they are in a scene together, there is an ease to the performance that makes their emotions for each other feel truly real. The performances of the other children are as strong, portraying depression, sadness, confusion, and trauma. Paddy Considine is particularly excellent in his role as the Zookeeper. You won’t like him, he portrays the character as abusive, traumatizing, egotistical, and cruel but you cannot fault the performance as he does a brilliant job of giving us the character as is needed for the film.
What I did struggle with in this film are two aspects. First, I found the message and the trauma heavy-handed, especially how the children are treated by the therapist. While some of the methods were used in the past, I question the methodology that uses trauma to promote healing, trauma to help already traumatized children. While I know there have been terrible treatments in mental health, I did find the constant abuse difficult to watch and heavy-handed with the message that the therapy involved was traumatic. Certainly, I could not figure out a valid treatment but from research, abusing those with the condition is unlikely to bear results.
The other problem was that the film was slow, the pacing repetitive in the actions and much too long to reach a true climax to the movie. The film dragged on and the abusive treatment of the children, both verbal abuse and physical abuse did not help with being able to enjoy the film. While the exploration of the condition was interesting and I certainly empathize with the children who feel different, it made it more difficult to connect to the actual film. I also caution those who have trauma because a film like this could trigger those issues. On the other hand, this film will certainly bring awareness to a condition not many are aware of and possibly promote better understanding.
If you do like dramas, if you like unusual films that explore mental health and identity in a new and different way, you might enjoy this movie. The performances are especially dynamic and engaging, even the therapist who you hate. The concepts are explored in an interesting way. While the abuse and trauma are difficult to watch, most of it would be believable, especially in mental health professionals who don’t understand the patients they are treating. I found the ending incredibly satisfying despite the slowness of the rest of the film.
Rating: 3 out of 5 animals.
Official Website: Wolf Movie | Official Website | Trailers and Release Dates | Focus Features
Jacob, a man who believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body, is sent to a clinic by his family where he is forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of “curative” therapies at the hands of The Zookeeper. Jacob’s only solace is the enigmatic wildcat with whom he roams the hospital in the dead of night. The two form an improbable friendship that develops into infatuation. WOLF opens exclusively in theaters on Friday, December 3, 2021.
ONE-LINER: A high-concept arthouse drama about a boy who believes he is a wolf.