Some men know precisely where the fine line between right and wrong lies. That doesn’t prevent them from stepping across it. Joseph seems to be a borderline case. He kicks his dog to death outside the betting shop, and immediately regrets what he’s done. Later, he collects his unemployment money at the post office, spouting forth racist crap at the Pakistani behind the counter who tells him not to come back here. That scene must play out regularly because he might have been out of a job for a long time. Joseph apologizes immediately, and I think he means what he says. Outside the shop, he finds a rock and throws it through the shop window. That scene reminded me of a Roger McGough poem: I am sorry, but this is the way things are.
Joseph is not a racist – worse, he hates everybody. One day, he hides behind the clothes rack in Hannah’s second-hand store in order to escape a beating. She lets him stay and offers him tea. He insults her with precise, well-aimed words. He comes to apologize the next day. She throws him out, but he is… curious about her. He sees her and wants to clean up his act. Then she turns up with bruises on her face.
This is the point where the movie gravitates towards a temptingly easy solution. Joseph could give Hannah’s husband a good thrashing – just as a warning to stay away, of course – and hook up with her. She would feel safe, and he could let his shoulders slump. They would make a nice couple. A lesser movie would go for that solution. “Tyrannosaur” has other plans for its characters. At first, I thought the title referred to Joseph’s predatory nature. It doesn’t. He crumbles in the presence of Hannah’s good side. There is a spellbinding scene where Hannah prays at his dying father’s bedside while Joseph is looking on. She does what he should do, but can’t. Maybe he can return the favour, but he knows she will never agree to him beating up her husband. Their need to find help is overpowering to them both, and if they cannot help each other, they must help themselves, or it might be too late.
“Tyrannosaur” is Paddy Considine’s first movie. It’s about violence and guilt, but doesn’t get bogged down in either. It sidesteps all the cliches of similar movies: Joseph and Hannah are alcoholics, but they behave erratically also when they are sober. Drink is not the trigger, but the drug to numb the pain and the guilt so they can go on for a little while longer. None of the characters reveal their past and present us with the reason they are the way they are. There are hints at Joseph’s family, but they don’t even begin to explain him. The same is true for Hannah. That’s as it’s supposed to be. What if the reason you are the way you are comes from a trivial event? What if the fact that you cannot change your past breaks your spine? What if the reason for your behaviour has gone missing or been forgotten? What if there isn’t any, and that is just the way you are – abusive and violent? In most cases, atonement is impossible. There is no closure – closure is for those who need a shiny cover. You don’t miraculously heal thyself. You go do what you have to – sometimes that means revenge, sometimes it means leaving for good. You have to live with the fact that you might be past saving.
Joseph and Hannah don’t play house, pretending everything is fine now, because they still are who they are. They don’t sleep with each other. They don’t take in the boy from across the street who is afraid to go home because of his useless step-dad’s pit-bull. Joseph tells Hannah in no uncertain terms to leave after she has taken refuge in his living room, and she complies with his demand because she understands him, and she understands what having her in his house means to him, and to her.
The performances are flawless. Peter Mullan has a way of projecting hurt and guilt while only standing there. His Joseph is a man who is twisted back on himself because of all the rage he carries around. Olivia Colman has only turned up on my radar with this movie, but she is on my watchlist now. Eddie Marsan goes to unknown human depths with his role as the husband. There is a scene where he apologizes to Hannah for having beaten her. Listen to how he speaks rather to what he says. Then watch Hannah’s face. Paddy Considine may know that neighborhood – it is only three doors down from Shane Meadows’ “Dead Man’s Shoes,” in which Considine played the lead.
The ending caught me cold, but movies like this are not about their ending. If you need a happy ending, look elsewhere. In situations like this, almost any change is an improvement. There is no real ending to stories like this, and the movie’s ending is far from happy, but not one of the characters would ask for happiness; they get some kind of relief, and must be content.