I live in a state that tells transgender kids to kill themselves. Think I’m exaggerating? Texas just discontinued its suicide hotline for LGBT teens. Maybe that’s why I’ve responded to Wolf better than others. If you take the premise of this heavily flawed film at face value, it’s ridiculous. If you take it as a metaphor, well, it’s still ridiculous, but it takes on a certain power.
George MacKay from 1917 portrays Jacob, a teen who believes he’s a wolf, and yeah, he has the same name as the werewolf from those Twilight movies, which can’t be a coincidence. He’s at a facility for other adolescents who believe themselves to be animals trapped in human bodies, while the psychiatrist who runs the facility, the heavy-handedly named Dr. Mann (Paddy Considine), tries to convince them that they’re in fact people. The name for this real-life psychological condition is otherkin, a word which would have made a better title for this movie than Wolf.
Keeping the misbehaving cases in feces-stained cages seems like an extraordinary way to persuade them that they’re human beings, but the not-so-good doctor is a big believer in conversion by aversion. He deals with one girl who thinks she’s a parrot (Lola Petticrew) by having his orderlies dangle her out an upper-floor window, while he taunts her that if she’s a bird, she can fly. When she breaks down and says she’s a girl, the doctor turns to the ashen-faced other patients and exults, “This is what freedom looks like!” Mann, whom the kids call The Zookeeper, is a compelling villain, one who’s clever enough to fake compassion when his patients’ parents complain about their bruises. He’s subtle, too, humiliating Jacob by reading passages from his diary aloud to the other inmates, who are scarcely less ashamed than him to hear about his desire for a wolf penis. We’ve seen movies about attempted gay conversion camps such as Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and the problem with those is that they weren’t nightmarish enough to capture what kind of hell that therapy is. The facility here is straight nightmare.
The metaphor (by writer-director Nathalie Biancheri) is far from thoroughly worked out, though, and the movie doesn’t realize the comic potential of having its main character howl at the moon. Jacob’s romantic plot with a girl who thinks she’s a cat (Lily-Rose Depp) doesn’t work, and neither does the ending. The value of Wolf lies in pointing out the sheer cruelty of telling a child that they belong in the body that they were born in and no other place. To do that, it tells us, is to treat them like animals.
Starring George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp. Written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri. Rated R.