The Time of the Wolf from Alistair Lax on Vimeo.

I recently watched Michael “‘Funny Games’, and then ‘Funny Games’ again for some reason” Haneke’s 2003 post-apocalypse drama “Time of the Wolf”. Like Victor Morton, I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s especially intense to try to figure out what’s going on and what you’re seeing alongside the characters. But there are a couple of things to note.

The movie takes place in France after some kind of unspecified catastrophe–we see burning animal carcasses, and the authorities seem to have cut off access from the countryside to the city, but we don’t know why. The story opens with an incredibly intense confrontation, as a family reaches their country house only to find that refugees have already broken in and claimed the place. (Morton is right about how “formally breathtaking” this movie is.)

After that the movie shows the survivors trying to recreate society in the state of nature: They fight about whether there are rules and who can be the judge of whom. Victor Morton thought this part of the film went slack, but I found it pretty compelling to watch how quickly the group of survivors rediscovers first rationality, then subjectivism and nihilism, and finally a sort of Rortyish attempt to re-found human society on storytelling and unspecified, areligious hope/wishful thinking. (Think of this Orwell essay.) All of that is done through small naturalistic encounters in realistic survival situations, with characters whose motives are understandable and down-to-earth.

The movie is also about children, and whether children can protect adults in crisis. Thinking about it afterward, I was reminded of “Beasts of the Southern Wild“. To talk about the similarities I need to get more spoilerous than I’d like, so you should skip the next paragraph if you’re planning to see it.

The movie is framed by two scenes in which a young child attempts to protect adults through self-sacrifice (or, in the first scene, maybe just appears to be protective but is actually just panicking). Both of these attempts fail. The child still needs protecting. Moreover, in “Time of the Wolf” the child’s climactic attempt to force meaning on a chaotic world by force of will is allowed to fail, unlike Hushpuppy’s domination-through-imagination in “Beasts”. An adult tries to offer an alternative way of accepting their terrible world, but the movie suggests that the adult’s guttering-candle optimism is perhaps more poignant than persuasive.