Come for cute animals, stay for nuanced psychology

By Mick LaSalle, Datebook

A battle-scarred soldier finds purpose in the Amazon rainforest caring for an ocelot cub and developing a complex relationship with a wildlife rescue center founder

Both the people in front of the camera and those behind it making the documentary "Wildcat," thought they were telling one kind of story: an uplifting tale of a young veteran, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who discovers love and healing in the Peruvian rain forest. What they ended up with wasn’t the opposite of that, but something much more complicated. It made the story they’d originally hoped to tell seem simple and naive.

I’ve read criticism of “Wildcat” saying that it doesn’t answer all our questions and that its overarching message isn’t as clear-cut as it could have been, but that’s what’s great about this film. Though specific to the stories of its central characters, this documentary is as complicated as life. It’s happy, sad and uncertain — genuinely moving and uplifting, yet never reassuring.

The documentary follows Harry Turner, who was the youngest British soldier in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he came home from the war with a profound case of PTSD, and at one point, despite his warm, loving family, tried to kill himself. When we first meet him a few years later, he is heavily tattooed and in need of escape, so he travels to the other side of the world to work at an animal rescue in the Peruvian rain forest.

At first, the situation seems idyllic, plus mosquitos. Samantha Zwicker, who founded and runs the rescue, is a thoroughly impressive young woman who takes a personal interest in Harry. She is, at most, just two or three years older than he is, and it's clear to anyone who can read the obvious body language that these two are on the way to a romantic relationship.

A major turning point in Harry’s life comes when Samantha entrusts him with the care of a baby ocelot. The spotted, little wildcat has been uprooted from its habitat and needs to be nurtured and released back into the wild, a process that will take 18 months. Harry’s job is to teach the ocelot how to become a wild animal.

Up to this point, “Wildcat” is going along exactly as you might expect from the film poster. Harry goes from being miserable and aimless to having a purpose in life and exactly the girlfriend he needs. The rest of the movie, we expect, will be a simple matter of filling out details on the way to a predetermined, Disney-esque conclusion.

What unfolds is more interesting and wrenching. Nothing quite goes as planned such that, at times, directors Melissa Lesh and Trevor Beck Frost must have wondered if their whole project was disintegrating. Harry suffers reversals and plunges into a deep and scary depression. “I can’t control my anger or my hate just now,” he says. “I kind of just want to cut myself.” Suddenly, Samantha — who has a troubled past of her own — has to deal with a man who is spiraling.

Photo of a beautiful ocelot with crystalline, hazel eyes and a very pink nose
Closeup of Keanu. Photo by Trevor Frost, Amazon Prime

Yet even as Harry suffers, “Wildcat” thrives. It tunnels deep and becomes a statement about the beauty and cruelty of the world. Harry wants to believe the world is glorious and lovely — he would be right to believe that. Instead, he sees the world as a cruel wasteland and he’s not wrong about that either.

When wickedness seems to ascend and everything gentle is at risk, how will he put one foot in front of the other, much less believe in the importance of his own actions? In that sense, Harry’s struggle is everyone's struggle — it’s just that he’s more sensitive to it.

Read the original article here.

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