Fyodor Dostoevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel, The House of the Dead, chronicles life inside a Siberian prison. In this remote place, Dostoevsky writes of the prisoners, “Here all were dreamers, and this was apparent at once. What gave poignancy to this feeling was the fact that this dreaminess gave the greater of the prisoners a gloomy and sullen, almost abnormal, expression.” This account of 19th- Century Russian prisoners, people carrying a hope for freedom buried under faces drawn with lines of concern, serves as an apt description for the lead characters, Joseph and Hannah, in writer-director Paddy Considine’s first film, Tyrannosaur.
The film tells the story of an unlikely friendship that blossoms between two people fighting for freedom. Joseph lives in a prison of his own making, his simmering rage ready to explode without a moment’s notice. Hannah lives in another kind of prison, one created by her domineering and abusive husband. As the film goes on though, Considine gives us signs that neither Joseph nor Hannah is content to let their lives run their current course. Both have made a point to reach out in kindness—Joseph to a young neighbor boy with an unideal home situation, Hannah by working in a charity clothing shop, and eventually to each other in friendship. This desire to look outside themselves and provide something better—even if only a pleasant conversation or a cheap blouse—mirrors their desire to find something better for their own situations as well.
Joseph appears more aware of this desire in himself, even as his outward behavior vacillates between morose and terrifying. In Mullan’s performance, Joseph possesses moments of clarity, and while impulsive, his impulses are not always directed toward anger and destruction. Hannah also expresses clarity, at times through her Christian faith and also in those moments when her prison closes in on her. In contrast to Joseph, Hannah internalizes her anger, seeking through her faith to take the high road in her relationship with her husband. Though they cope in different ways, Joseph and Hannah each struggle to control their rage. These unlikely friends—they meet when Joseph comes into her shop—work through the same struggle, one that, at times, yields terrifying results.
Tyrannosaur is a visceral, difficult film. Considine makes ample use of close-ups, bringing the audience into the closest contact with his subjects. And the darker the situation, the closer we seem to be. Even as we enter this dark world, Considine makes the journey worthwhile by helping us to see the terrifying consequences of rage and the transformative grace we can find in true friendship.