Tyrannosaur is a British independent film released in 2011. It received a very small international theatrical release due to its independent status, however it did the rounds at all of the major film festivals.
The film is written and directed by photographer and actor Paddy Considine, who readers may know as the star of Dead Man Shoes, Submarine or as one of the Detective “Andy’s” in the seminal action comedy classic Hot Fuzz. Tyrannosaur is an impressive achievement for a first time feature filmmaker.
This film originally encountered a small amount of controversy stateside because audiences were disappointed to discover that despite the title and the poster (featured above) there are no dinosaurs featured in this film. “Tyrannosaur” is instead a metaphor and isn’t meant to indicate that a T-rex will be appearing in a British social realist drama. For those of you that complain, clearly you’ve never seen Elephant (provocative Gus Van Sant film about the Columbine school shooting), The Silence Of The Lambs (conspicuous lack of silent lambs in this psychological horror classic), One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (you get the point by now). So, just to clarify – there are no dinosaurs in this film.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way – what is the film about? The always exceptional Peter Mullan plays Joseph; a man whose uncontrollable alcoholism is causing him to be plagued by rage and violence that is sending him on a self-destructive spiral. This film can be commended for its efficiency in displaying this trait. Instead of dedicating the opening thirty minutes to showing the different aspects of Joseph’s life we are instead treated to a very brutal and eye-opening first scene that violently throws us into Joseph’s collapsing and solitary world. The opening scene depicts Joseph being ejected from a pub, much to his chagrin. His resulting anger is misdirected to his faithful and loving dog who is patiently waiting outside for him. Joseph, consumed by his rage transforms into a monster and kicks his beloved dog to death in an unflinching and unquestionably horrible scene. It’s here that Considine and Mullan set the tone for the entire film.
After this incident Joseph decides that he wants to make a positive change in his life. He wants to become a better person, and for the entire film mourns the loss of his dog and uses It as a catalyst to better himself. Unfortunately Joseph lives in a very hostile environment and has made himself many enemies over the course of his life. One day he is attacked by a group of people and the cowardly Joseph flees and hides in a charity shop belonging to our second main character – Hannah, played by the sensational Olivia Colman.
Hannah is a kind and compassionate Christian woman who tries her best to help and comfort Joseph, but is only met with fierce aggression. Eventually Joseph comes around and apologizes to her, and in that moment a very fragile and tenuous relationship between the two characters is born. As Hannah delves deeper into Joseph’s life she is made to feel unwelcome. Joseph tells her that she lives in a dream world and doesn’t understand what it’s like to live a life that he has. Unfortunately, Hannah does know what it’s like to experience the unpleasantness of a rage filled man in the form of her husband James (a terrifying Eddie Marsan); a despicably abusive man who is crippled by his own inadequacies. Hannah lives under tyranny and her fear is incredibly palpable. As someone who has seen the effects of spousal abuse up close (in the parents of partners’ I’ve dated, don’t worry kids, my parents are fine and dandy) I can say that James’ brand of abuse is particularly vindictive and cruel, perhaps more-so than any version previously portrayed on screen, and when you are told the depths of his malice it is truly horrifying.
The entire film focuses on these three characters, the two main male characters being utterly unsympathetic. Joseph knows what is happening to Hannah, but finds himself trapped by his own guilt and helpless to do anything to save her. There are two people in the film, Hannah and a young boy on his estate, that need his help throughout the film, yet it is his cowardice that allows their abuse to continue. As the film continues along its course we learn more about Joseph and why he is paralyzed by the guilt of his past. When he finally explains the reason behind the Tyrannosaur metaphor it is bitterly effective, partly because it encapsulates the reason for his guilt and rage, but also, more crucially the cruel irony as he misses the true meaning of the metaphor and how it applies to him.
Tyrannosaur is a bleak, unsettling and very serious film. Through these characters Considine tells a story about the destructive power of rage, the eco-system that it creates and how our actions perpetuate our environments. Joseph is a widower crippled by his guilt for mistreating his wife. Hannah is a martyr, whether she’s volunteering for charity, or absorbing abuse from both her friend and her husband she is sacrificing her own self-worth, using her religious beliefs as a flimsy shield; a sham that she lives by in order to justify everything that’s happening to her – a sham that her husband James is party to as well.
The heart of the film lies with the sublime Olivia Colman, who until this point had been known for her comedy work on British television. This is a far cry from that and she is definitely the most tragic character in this pitiful world. What’s most remarkable about Tyrannosaur is the way in which Considine chooses to depict events. In a passive style that neither condemns or condones the actions of anyone – the film boils along in an unexpected way, There’s no happy ending to be found here, though the conclusion marks a new chapter in our main character’s lives. While the finale could certainly be construed as more positive than the beginning, for these tortured and lost characters, there’s no such thing as “true” redemption.