Hunt for the Wilderpeople is based on a story that is as bland and predictable as any coming of age or the innumerable similarly themed movies are based on.
An abandoned boy in early teens, a generous and abnormally kind woman and a gruff, irritable old man come together in an attempt to bring some normalcy to the boy’s miserable life. After a few hiccups, as the domestic scene is setting down, the motherly figure dies. We now have two disconnected unsettled individuals. And what do they do. Against all bets they go on a wild adventure fashioned like the typical road trip movies, where nuances of the characters unfold slowly and that inevitable bonding forms, predictably happens to these these two also. The ending is made overtly dramatic with a car chase and crash.
Well, the real ending is a damp squib because it is added to keep the spirits high. But we might forgive the creators because we have been tolerating bigger atrocities in the name of happy endings.
But it’s not the story, the ending or the elements of interpretation, it’s not even that big picture which forms at the back of your mind as you watch a sensible movie that capture your imagination. It is the storytelling technique that is employed, the bits and pieces you are given, fairly interspersed with distractions, making it fun to get everything together to form a plausible version. In addition, the movie is divided into chapters giving you the sense of reading a book.
What keeps you engaged are also the subtleties in the execution. The opening scene for example, a wonderful aerial view of dense New Zealand forest and undulating mountains. For some reason, they call it the bush. Anyways, what accompanies the visuals is music that sounds like an anthem, and then a car winding through the deserted road with the music changing along with it and the close-ups of the characters.
It is definitely one of the best opening scenes, or probably I was in such a mood when I watched it. I didn’t plan to watch this movie, I wasn’t aware of the fact that such a movie existed, nor was I aware of its renowned director. What caught my attention was ‘Wilderpeople’.
Besides the verdant location and the eclectic choice of background music, what makes an impression, but in an understated way, is the ordinariness of the characters. They don’t seem wise, or insightful, or say having dreams and plans for the future, they are the beings of the present. Waiting for the next scene, or the next dialogue. And therein lies the charm, that longing within us not to think about the past or the future, to just inhale the fresh air, of life, and to talk about wild horses.
Having said that, the characters don’t come out as idiots either. They are made of style, innovativeness, there is hunting, the wisdom of love and ‘knack’. It’s however not the individual qualities but how all these come together in a matter of fact way that is impressive about the characters. The best scene to illustrate would be how the gracious and seemingly tender Bella running with a knife to kill a wild boar.
To be able to make such a movie and avoid the slippery slopes of being cute, preachy or developing a ‘we stand for world peace’ attitude is a feat in itself. The concept that is invariably applied to avoid the slippage is humor, and humor in this movie is as much a saving grace as it is an undercooked egg, quirky, uncertain yet delectable. The lord of the rings scene is my pick, especially how it goes unregistered.
I developed an aversion to Haiku after starting my blog. In my opinion, it is the worst format to write and I keep wondering why it is so popular. So, when out of the blues Ricky mentioned Haiku, it was a laugh among my fellow viewers. In spite of reiterating my views on the subject and earning the ‘will you shut up’ looks, I must confess I liked the two Ricky recites to Bella.
There’s heaps of maggots.
Maggots wriggling in dead sheep.
Like moving rice. Yuck.
Kingi, you wanker
Kingi, you wanker.
You arsehole. I hate you heaps.
Please die soon, in pain.
The actor playing Ricky is absolutely brilliant. Without him this movie would have never worked, not even with the greatest story, locale or director. Uncle Hec is good too, but never a scene stealer. The adventure is reasonably fast paced but what stands out is the bizarre behavior of the other people. The ridiculous hunt for the two seems symbolic of what the authorities, governments and society undertakes to ensure its survival, or at least the survival of its tenets. It also reinforces the perception of how grounded and real the boy and the uncle are, in the circumstances.
In retrospect, it seems like this was the idea behind, the big picture that drives a motion picture. It is captured beautifully by the incorrect word ‘majestical’ that is coined by Hec looking around the lake, with a honesty that comes only when one is overwhelmed. The feeling that this movie infuses into the viewer is that things don’t have to be nice and agreeable, people don’t have to be flawless, even you can be wrong, politically or morally, and all you need for redemption is something as simple as that one honest, straight from the heart Haiku, or that word, a decision perhaps, or a choice that you truly believe in, that defines you.
Redemption is usually incomprehensible when seen from another’s perspective, but you won’t care because once there you are bound to be in a good humor. At the end, it is humor that saves a movie and also you.