The Animal Kingdom

The Animal Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom
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From the beginning of The Animal Kingdom, a French film by Thomas Cailley, a man standing on the street is banally shouting “Oh, the times we live in”. A birdlike man who has been mutated escapes from an ambulance and looks threateningly at all those people caught up in traffic before taking off. Apparently, this is life as it exists today. This movie is after Love at First Fight as the second work of this director. It tells a story of how father and son are trying to adjust themselves to this new condition where some human beings have started having animal metamorphosis which prevents them from taking part in any form or shape of social existence.

The Animal Kingdom follows François and his son Emile as they adjust to their new life in a small town in the southwest of France. One day, Lana—an animal—will be among those being taken to another place which can treat her better than now. Unfortunately for her and other patients she is with on that bus, there comes an out-of-season storm that steers it off its course into the woods.

Meanwhile, Emile has just begun settling into his new life when he realizes that he’s inherited his mother’s genes and is starting to transform into a creature himself. For Emile Balaguère however there are two choices; whether he will do what his dad wants him to do by hiding this mutation or embrace nature by developing into another person.

The magical realist fairytale film explores sublime terror of transition through visual dreams-nighmares language and finds beauty in oddity.
It’s not a story about post-apocalyptic world gone too far like many might think but about how society treats this global event and how each individual accommodates themselves within such alien environment according to Cailley.
Cailley asks us what happens when familiarity fades away because we suddenly become foreigners amid our everyday life experiences. It contrasts the lush greenery of forests and wetlands of Landes de Gascogne with the cold concrete and steel of human structures, emphasizing the unnaturalness of human influence over nature.

The makeup and computer-generated effects are interpolated with the creatures themselves so as to make their existence real. No two such creatures are similar in appearance; their every design is worth seeing again for its betterness than of the previous one. The actors who played these animal-like persons were able to reveal their inner beast while they walked around like them. A standout among animal actors may be Fix – a man-bird whom Emile meets in the forest. Tom Mercier acts as if he was becoming a bird imitating him thus moving jerkily, while his clicking speech emphasizes that his transformation is far from being skin deep. Kirscher’s performance is similarly laudable, his subtle, animalistic motions and noises revealing the creature he will one day become.

Although The Animal Kingdom is set in a very fantastical world, it remains quite down-to-earth within the context of François and Émile’s new lives. This is not a movie about what the world has become; rather it is about the experience of raising a child amidst an intense and unknowable global transformation. Romain Duris and Paul Kirsher deliver brilliant performances as Francois and Emile respectively, who convincingly embody their characters.

Beneath his quiet philosophizing on animals is an uncertainty that can be seen through the gap between his words and actions. He doesn’t believe doctors are doing good, but he must trust them due to his own desperation to return to life before mutation. Even more so, François’ beliefs about creatures are challenged further by Émile’s metamorphosis.

The man’s fear of losing his son or only tether to his wife drives him to hide him away. It is Duris’ acting that makes this scene more than just disgust or hate for what may be lost when he tries hard to suppress the boy’s animal side. As such, there is a tenderness in Duris who conveys through the performance real-life chemistry with Kirscher as they play father-son role amidst all other elements of fantasy in this story.

Julia, therefore, appears underutilized as her connection with François grows after Lana disappears with other animals. She offers one more point of contact between François as well as a desperate need while his son pulls away from him; however she also deals internally with issues regarding her work ethics along with effectiveness which provides balance against military men who would do anything at whatever price just to control these animals.

This has been executed excellently by Adele Exarchopoulos making it slightly disappointing when we don’t get much of Julia and her story line in The Animal Kingdom. Her character here cannot go beyond her relationship with François; however I would have loved seeing Julia outside this frame, probing deeper her complicity in this inhumane system.

Yet, the narrative of The Animal Kingdom is also compromised by the emphasis on Emile’s growth and bond with his father. This heavy focus eventually makes the film’s ending feel a little rushed and clichéd as a mob riddled with fear is eager to kill Emile and his kind at sight after an incident during Saint John’s Day festival.

It isn’t that it couldn’t happen, but rather that the story feels like it was just geared towards an exciting climax instead of one where Francois has any say over what happens next. In order for him not to appear as a different character from who he has been throughout the rest of the film, the father who quotes Rene Char must make his final decision.

All of that to say, The Animal Kingdom suffers most from not having the space to tell the slow story it wants to. Because of where the story ends, the film feels a tad too long; but, given the story and metaphors the film is clearly aiming for, it feels like The Animal Kingdom might have benefited from a different format like a miniseries, perhaps. Here, the character arcs could be longer and more defined, the larger social ramifications of the mutation explored within them, and the ending wouldn’t feel like a heel-turn toward an exciting spectacle.

The Animal Kingdom posits itself as a thriller, a tense adventure that pits Francois and Émile against the world’s cruelty, but the film comes across more as a coming-of-age story peppered with mere moments of that cruelty — whether that be the hateful ignorance of humanity or the universe’s way of challenging our choices and beliefs. The more horrific moments (most notably Émile’s realization of what’s happening to his body) are serviceable enough, but they could be tighter to make that horror more palpable.

Even the film’s ending chase scenes don’t convey the sort of terror or thrills one might expect. Imbued instead with a sense of wonder at Emile’s newfound power, however, there does not appear any real danger from angry mobs or soldiers flocking around him . It isn’t that any of this is bad per se – in fact , it works towards empathy within The Animal kingdom- rather those geared towards an adrenaline pump might feel let down.

Overall, The Animal Kingdom is beautifully introspective of our changing world, our choices in life and who we become when faced with crisis. It asks us to reflect on Otherness and arbitrary divisions we impose upon ourselves for no good reason. However filmed prior to COVID19 pandemic ,the movie has been immeasurably enriched by it , capturing shifting attitudes during times when societies are coming apart. The performances are top-notch, the effects and locations sublime in their beauty and terror, and the story a lovely reflection on coming of age in a bizarre new normal. It isn’t the thriller promised by its marketing, but instead, the quest of a father learning to let his son stumble and eventually thrive in a world few feel prepared to fully accept.

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