The last Tasmanian Tiger died in 1936 at a zoo in Hobart. But reports as late as last November suggest the species, also known as the Tasmanian wolf, is far from extinct and is living somewhere in the vast wilderness of Tasmania, an island country just south of Australia.
It is a search for the so-called last Tiger that lays at the heart of the 2011 Australian film, “The Hunter,” starring the ever-gaunt Willem Dafoe as the lonely hunter, Martin.
Martin is hired by Redleaf, a military biotech, to venture into the Tasmanian wilderness to find something “extremely rare” and bring back biological samples including blood, skin, hair and organs. In short, Martin is to kill the last Tasmanian Tiger. Kill it, I assume, for the betterment of mankind, not to mention for money and power.
At first, Martin has little qualms about snuffing out the animal’s life. He is an expert hunter with world-class survival and trapping skills and total focus on his trophy.
In the opening scenes, we see an old film of a caged Tasmanian Tiger. It is an ugly animal, more dog than feline, with a gaping mouth and a pointed snout. It is called “tiger” only because of the stripes on its rear end. A meat-eater, the Tiger is said to first go for its victim’s heart, which also proves an essential clue of its existence. Find a dead animal with its heart torn out . . . well, you know. The tiger exists.
Complications begin to arise when Martin temporarily moves in to a home near the wilderness with a woman and her two children. The woman’s husband has himself been looking for the tiger and has not been heard from in a long time.
As the director Daniel Nettheim’s film progresses, Martin’s own heart is taken. He becomes particularly attached to the young boy, Bike (Finn Woodlock), who is mute and communicates by drawing pictures. And the mother, Lucy (Frances O’Connor), a prescription-drug addict, begins to grow on him. The viewer senses love is around the bend for these two.
In between tense forays in search of the Tiger, animosity toward Martin builds within local loggers who fear discovery of the rare species will jeopardize their jobs. Someone tries to kill him. One of Martin’s enemies, Jack (Sam Neil), could be an ally if not for his jealousy over Lucy.
This is a gripping film, dramatic and sorrowful through the ending scenes, not to mention wonderful photography by Robert Humphreys with awesome views of the Tasmanian wilderness.
More important, “The Hunter” carries a potent message that I predict will strike to the core of most viewers.
The senseless hunter with mercenary, short-term goals is not just Martin. It bodes ill for the human species as well.