Why you should watch “Tyrannosaur”

by Annie Kaszina on October 16, 2011

“Tyrannosaur” is a low budget British film about domestic violence that has won several prizes, received almost unanimous critical acclaim, and is getting precious little exposure.  Few cinemas are showing it and, when I went to see it there were only 6 people in the cinema – including myself and my companion.

Of course, there are reasons for this; it’s not an easy watch, it lacks the feel-good factor, the actors are not heart throbs, it has a disquieting gritty realism about  it – it depicts a part of a Northern City I don’t know and don’t want to know – and the characterization leaves us feeling decidedly uncomfortable.

The film opens with a scene that conveys all that is most toxic about Joseph, a man on the social and emotional scrapheap.  Joseph is a violent volcano of a man.  He has a hair-line trigger.  In fact, he is such a monster you cannot help wondering if he has “mental health issues”.  He is too dangerous to be loose in the community, even such a violent, lawless “community” as the one he inhabits.

At this point, I was doing the typical middle class thing and distancing myself from the depiction of Joseph’s violence.  I was thinking: “Yes, but… Joseph’s a freak.  Do we need another stereotypical depiction of dregs-of-society violence?

At which point the movie took a very different turn.  Joseph’s path intersected with Hannah’s.  Hannah, the middle class, committed Christian, runs a charity shop in Joseph’s hellish underworld.  He goes in there, and Hannah responds to his threatening, unsettling presence with compassion, Christian charity, and seeming confidence.

A little later we see the private, unsanitized side of Hannah’s life.  Hannah lives with a monster.  He is, on the surface, a very different kind of monster to Joseph.  Unlike Joseph, James has the skills to succeed in the middle class world.  But, in reality, he personifies the acceptable middle class mask of domestic violence.

Hannah and James live on a moderately aspirational housing estate.  The detached, comfortable houses are set close together.  Yet, apparently, nobody has seen, heard, or registered the violence, and horror, that goes on in their respectable neighborhood.

And this is another aspect of the film that is hard to accept.  Hannah is a good, loving, caring Christian.  She responds appropriately to social intercourse, but she is totally isolated.  Perhaps because she is a prisoner of her circumstances, bound and fettered by the  expectation of how a woman like her, should behave.  She has nobody she can confide in, nowhere to go, no way out.  At times I found myself screaming internally: “For Heaven’s sake, there are refuges.  They are good places, where you can be safe, and get the help you need.”

But Hannah didn’t even thinking about going anywhere.  Which is, probably, very realistic.  Certainly, I’ve met many, many women who lived with domestic violence and thought rescues were not for them.

Hannah, like so many women who have suffered physical and emotional abuse, had no idea of how she could escape and rebuild her life.  Hannah stayed until she finally broke.

I don’t want to be more specific because, if you choose to watch this film, it’s only right that you should come fresh to what happens.  And it is a film well worth watching.  There are so many scenes that encapsulate the essence of domestic abuse – both physical and emotional.

It is also, I believe, a tender, respectful film.  The characterization of Hannah really touched me.  She is a thoroughly good woman, trying her best to focus on her faith, and her Christianity, despite living in the darkest circle of hell.

Do you need to see that film, having lived that life yourself?  I’m guessing that you probably do.  For the perspective it will give you.  Curiously, by the end of the film, I found myself warming slightly to Joseph – who was finally driven to looking into himself.  James, on the other hand, aroused only my revulsion.

And he reminded me of Mary, a woman I knew when my daughter was very young.  My daughter was so young, in fact, that I had to accompany her on all her play dates.  The play dates I dreaded were with Thomas W.  My daughter loved Thomas.  I thought he was a strange, creepy, little boy.  Aged 5, he already showed clear signs of becoming a bully.

Mary, his mother, was strange, too.  She never, ever opened up, had precious little to say for herself,  rarely smiled, and lived a totally regimented life, revolving around when her husband returned from work and wanted his dinner.   Mary was also clever, talented, and creative.  But the only time you ever saw any glimpses of this side of Mary was when those gifts could be used to further her son’s school career.

In the time I knew Mary (about 2 years) she walked into a door handle, or two, and had a swing smack her in the face.  Once, I was invited round and saw Postit notes on doors, and surfaces, telling her what she had to do for her husband.  Those Postit notes made perfect sense to me: clearly, she and her husband didn’t speak very much.  (Just like me and mine.)

Of all our little circle, I was the only one who knew intuitively that Mary was a victim of domestic violence.  (I didn’t know I was, too, at the time!)  But Mary was heavily into denial, impossibly defensive, and I wouldn’t have known what to say.  So, I said nothing, my daughter changed school, and I was happy not to see Mary any more.

Mary’s husband was a nondescript, unpleasant little creep.  He was exactly the same sort of sh*t-weasel as James in 2Tyrannosaur2.  Neither looked “the type” for domestic violence – if, that is, you imagine that only butch looking men abuse women.

Mary lived on a nice, new, aspirational squeaky clean housing estate.  The last I heard of her, some 6 years after I last saw her, she was still with her creep.  Mary, just like Hannah, envisioned no way out of domestic hell.

“Tyrannosaur” is an extraordinary film.  It lifts the lid on lives of quiet desperation, and the monstrous destructiveness of domestic violence.  Whether or not a partner has physically damaged you, in essence you have shared Hannah’s experiences.  Seeing it from the outside, so that you do not somehow take responsibility for an abusive partner’s heinous behavior, is well worth doing.

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