The last known Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity in a Hobart zoo in 1936. Since then there have been numerous expeditions into the wilds of Tasmania searching for the animal and reports of sightings as far away as New South Wales. Despite all the activity, nothing has ever been substantiated. Yet for many the dream still holds weight. The notion of one or two thylacines wandering around in the bush is just too tantalising to let go of.
It’s not a surprise to Sydney based director Daniel Nettheim, who’s recent film The Hunter taps squarely into this notion.
“I’ve always seen it as a bit of a national myth,” he explains, kind’ve like the Loch Ness monster.”
Nettheim’s film puts Willem Defoe into the wilds of Tasmania searching for the elusive creature at the behest of a shady multinational drug company. Despite most people outside Australia having no notion of the Tiger, Nettheim felt that the film was still able to resonate with international audiences.
“In a way each culture has parallel myths, an elusive or missing creature,” he offers.
“It’s also thematically rich on many levels, speaking on the complex relationship between man and the environment, which as you know is fraught, and nowhere is it more fraught than Tasmania in the frontline to save the forests.
The film took 8 years to be made, though signing the internationally renowned Willem Defoe made a significant contribution to getting finance.
“Because the character was written as a foreigner we always thought we’re not restricted to local actors, so lets make a list of any actor in the world that we’d like to work with that we think would be good in the part,” explains Nettheim.
Defoe was at the top of their list and signed on quickly, attracted to the idea of shooting on location and playing a character unlike previous roles, though he was also keen to contribute to the development of the character. The result is a spare character who offers little in the way of dialogue, yet is able to communicate with a rare kind of subtlety
“I like sparse films,” laughs Nettheim, “I like these existential films with loner characters like the Conversation or Le Samurai, and I think this character was in this tradition.”
To make it as authentic as possible Defoe was taught by a wilderness advisor how to make the incredible traps we see in the film.
“I’d never been a fan of hunting before,” Nettheim offers, “but I can see an incredible beauty in it now.”
“It is a noble and ancient art,” he continues, “and the people who do it well and professionally with pride do it with a lot of respect for the animal. You’re not a good hunter if the animal suffers in any way. It’s got to be a clean kill. When it’s done with a respect for nature it can be really beautiful.”
It’s ideas like this that makes The Hunter such a morally complex film; there are no easy answers or resolutions. Yet that’s what makes it so fascinating. Then of course there’s the one burning question that haunts the film throughout.
“We wanted the driving dramatic question to be will he find it or will he not. I didn’t want to tip the scales too early either way.”