Greetings again from the darkness. We all know that gender identity, and identity in general, are topics receiving a great deal of attention these days. Writer-director Nathalie Biancheri latches on to the discussion by bringing up Species Identity Disorder, also known as Otherkin. These are folks who identify as something other than human, typically a type of animal. It’s easy enough to connect the dots to gender dysphoria, but it also walks a fine line between mental health and sadness (and if we are being honest, a bit of humor – at least as presented here).
The film opens on the bare butt of a male in the forest. That’s a sentence I hope to never write again. George MacKay stars as Jacob, a young man who identifies as a wolf. It’s his butt we first glimpse as he prowls the vegetation growing in nature. Next we see Jacob with his parents at an institution that specializes in Species Identity Disorder. The questionable curative therapies conducted by Dr. Mann (get it?) seem more like torture and humiliation than treatment. Dr. Mann (played straight-faced by Paddy Considine) is also known as ‘The Zookeeper’ as the patients include: a parrot, a duck, a squirrel, a horse, and a German shepherd.
It’s unsettling to see the actions and mannerisms of these patients, but equally unsettling to witness Dr. Mann’s methods. If you’ve ever seen THE SNAKE PIT (1948), then you have some idea of how disturbing institutional treatment can be. Of course, this movie is not at the level of that Anatole Litvak classic, but George MacKay’s performance is quite something to appreciate. We saw his physical abilities as he performed yoga in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016), and here he expertly creates the movements (and howls) of the wolf he believes himself to be.
Lily-Rose Depp plays Cecile, a long-term patient who has yet to fully kick her wildcat tendencies. She and Jacob manage to become friends, and the attraction goes deeper through Jacob’s primal urges and tendencies. The two actors have one scene together that, by itself, elevates the film. Obviously the real mystery is whether Jacob’s bonding with Cecile is enough to change his outlook. He much choose between what he sees as his true self, and life as a man. Director Biancheri has delivered a high-concept arthouse film that will likely find a niche audience, while others are likely to brush it off as cinematic absurdity.
Opens in theaters on December 3, 2021