Tyrannosaur

Finding Tyrannosaur an unremittingly upsetting film, Chloe George salutes its ability to avoid clichés in the portrayal of violence against women

Chloe George, 24 October 2011

Hannah doesn't have much, but she does have wine. And vodka, and gin. Wrought by daily horrors, her decision to drink seems utterly rational, and drink she does. Her tipples are of the solitary kind: desperate sips in a nightclub otherwise reserved for revellers; too-large glasses in the early evening, the ones others have as they curl up on cosy sofas with friends or family...

Tyrannosaur is Paddy Considine's first film as a director, and he paints a devastating picture of cycles of violence and pain. The stillness and malevolence he had brought to the screen as an actor in films like Dead Man's Shoes and A Room For Romeo Brass is mirrored in his directorial debut. This is gritty realism of the harshest kind, refusing to shy away from the dark side of family life and showing some wrenchingly tragic scenes of domestic abuse and other violence.

Film can't hope to reflect life exactly, but should try to explore its themes and contradictions in a way that isn't trite or offensive. When we first meet Hannah, a Christian who works in a charity shop, her budding friendship with Joseph, a man who wears his rage on his sleeve, seems like a generous gesture on her behalf. Soon we discover that Hannah is in need of help as much as Joseph. Her scars soon become more obvious than his, worn on her face, in the demonstration of her fear and desperation.

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The role of Hannah is delivered in a heartbreakingly mesmerising performance by Olivia Colman, who we are used to seeing in light-hearted comedy roles in Peepshow and Green Wing. The friendship she embarks on with Joseph, played with equal mastery by veteran realist Peter Mullan, is in parts touching and reflective of the profound psychological damage of both characters.

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Most of the men in Tyrannosaur have a history of violence: they are drunks and layabouts and have broken all the things dear to them. Because of this, the film has been accused of misandry, but I think that to say so is to misunderstand the despair inherent in both the interior and exterior worlds of the characters. The inclusion of these men suggests that Considine sees excesses of masculinity as galvanising terrible patterns of suffering.

The charge of misandry also misses the non-essentialist message of the film - that all of us contain the capacity for both great violence and compassion. Similarly to Ken Loach or Winter's Bone's director Debra Granik, Considine avoids placing the blame, merely showing us what can occur in universes of rage, loss and despair.

The complexity of humans and the need to move beyond easy binaries of good and evil permeate the film

He also asks heavy questions of us as we subsequently recoil from and empathise with Joseph. As the shocking denouement is approaching, we have to decide whether we can extend the understanding and compassion we grant Hannah - whose violent actions can be seen as the result of brutal events that have unfolded in her life - to the other characters in the film.

Can we offer empathy to the monstrous James (Eddie Marsan), Hannah's husband? How useful is forgiveness and empathy to the victim of domestic abuse? How do we square our warmer feelings towards Joseph, who at times looks out for Hannah and a neglected child in the neighbourhood, with his chequered past?

Tyrannosaur.jpgSometimes it's hard, witnessing the violence perpetrated by men in film, on the news or in person, not to fall into the essentialist (misandrist) trap yourself. In Tyrannosaur, it is difficult not to feel disgust at James' actions seeing them as somehow part of his maleness - even if we believe that this is conditioned and not innate. Ultimately, it is the complexity of humans, and the need to move beyond easy binaries of good and evil, that permeates the film. Considine isn't telling us what to think, but the logic of his film demands that we engage with fundamental questions.

Interestingly, it is when both main characters veer off their typical behaviour patterns - as Hannah embarks on a path of violence and Joseph tries to turn his life around - that terrible acts occur. Considine isn't necessarily suggesting that these acts could have been avoided had the characters followed their 'true' nature or that there is one sensible road to take.

You don't have to be a Christian to ask how far your personal capacity for empathy goes

Instead he seems to be saying: there is no path. There are no easy answers, no empirical measures when it comes to goodness or rightness. It's brave, and disconcerting, for cinema to remind us that people don't always get what they seem to deserve. To remind us how much there is still to be done for women who are suffering like Hannah and to make sure that, unlike her, they have a place to turn to.

As Joseph crouches in Hannah's shop, hiding from his own rage, she prays for him. He sobs. Her lack of judgement seems astonishing to him, and to us. You don't have to be a Christian like Hannah to ask how far your personal capacity for empathy goes, how far the chance of redemption can stretch.

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Only truly great cinema can make us grapple with such serious questions and Considine has created something masterful here. For the beautiful Hannah, we hope desperately for something better. It may not come. But that life can still offer some beauty and friendship is conveyed with astonishing skill in this stunning film.

Comments From You

evie // Posted 24 October 2011 at 12:09

Great review. But is it a realistic portrayal of domestic abuse, or does it uphold the standard myths?

Jennifer Drew // Posted 24 October 2011 at 12:18

Much is made of that non-existent word 'misandry' but I note nothing has been said or raised about the inherent misogyny contained in this film. The female lead is in my view portrayed as a masochist who constantly forgives the men who commit violence against her.

' Ultimately, it is the complexity of humans, and the need to move beyond easy binaries of good and evil, that permeates the film.' Wrong - humans do not exist in isolation from their socio-economic surroundings and the politics of how and why so many men commit violence against women and why male supremacy blames women for supposedly provoking men cannot be dismissed by this claim 'it is the complexity of humans.' That phrase is male supremacist language because only men are the default humans and it is their experiences and their suffering which is deemed to be real. Women always exist in relation to men and that is why women as always are blamed and/or expected to enact forgiveness towards violent men. Men are never expected to be held accountable for their actions or to enact atonement.

Chloe // Posted 24 October 2011 at 16:01

Hey Evie, I am in no way an expert on domestic abuse, I was reacting personally to what seemed a very real portrayal, which avoided certain myths. For example, Hannah and her husband were from a middle class background (domestic abuse can exist regardless of background), and (without wanting to spoil the plot) there's a part which shows Hannah's 'forgiving' her partner after he's beaten her, and her expression is a mix of utter rage and disgust - moving on from the passive, woman-as-victim status.

Jennifer, I haven't been called a male supremacist before! I wouldn't say the character 'continuously forgives the men who commit violence against her'[Edit 25/10/11: spoiler now removed]. For me, the action she took was a symbol of her desperation - desperation that is understandable, given her situation. I'd say it's a little unforgiving of anyone to call someone masochistic or suggest they're to blame for staying in abusive relationships.

I wasn't suggesting that humans exist in isolation from their surroundings - the very opposite, in fact - they're products (to an extent) of their environment, which is why it's vital to understand how and why abuse, or any social phenomena, occurs.

Rachel // Posted 25 October 2011 at 07:31

Great review, thanks! (Unfortunately I managed to miss a spoiler alert in your last comment - just to warn you that others might too!)

I'm still not sure if I'm going to see this film. I have a huge amount of respect for Paddy Considine, and I'm sure this is a brilliantly made film, but I just don't know if I'd be able to sit through a film that's so violent and grim. I saw the short that he did before this film (Dog Altogether I think it was called), and I thought that was great, but again - a bit too close to the bone. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, I'd even suggest that films *should* work to push us out of comfortable ways of thinking, but I just have a feeling that this one might just be a step too far for me at the moment, much the same way that if I'd known about the harrowing rape story line in This is England '86 I might have given that a miss too.

Chloe // Posted 25 October 2011 at 13:15

Hey Rachel, thank you - and absolutely know what you mean about avoiding some things. I sort of wish I hadn't seen that part of This is England either ... I didn't want to miss Olivia Colman's performance in this, but I certainly couldn't 'recommend' it to anyone as such without a disclaimer attached!

thanks all for your comments x

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About the author

Chloe George

Chloe is 29 and works for a charity as an online editor/social media coordinator. She lives in Hackney, east London and blogs as Woman on the edge of time

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