Wild Tigers I Have Known is the kind of movie that for the most part just doesn’t connect with me, though I can certainly understand why some people would rave about it. It’s one of those movies that’s much closer to poetry than prose.
There’s very little dialogue for most of the movie. There’s at most a bare bones story the first half or so, and then a little more of a story in the second half, but still never remotely close to what there’d be in a regular movie.
It has about as much substance overall as a 12 minute short, with the rest of the feature length film taken up by lyrical sequences with artsy camera shots and eerie music and such, kind of like the skateboarding scenes in Gus Van Zant’s Paranoid Park. (Van Zant was also involved in this movie, though as an executive producer rather than director.)
Except in Paranoid Park, the non-narrative sequences are occasional annoying interludes in an otherwise more or less normal movie, whereas here it’s the narrative sequences that are the occasional interlude.
Anyway, the story, insofar as there is one, is about a middle school homosexual boy. He is being raised by a single mother who at times is warm and loving toward him, but can also be impatient and scolding.
He is mostly an outcast for being different, though he does have one friend he hangs out with. The friend tries to be understanding but mostly can’t fathom what’s going on with the boy, and the boy is frankly not very nice to him or appreciative of his friendship.
Actually the boy himself doesn’t understand what’s going on with him. He denies being gay, doesn’t like the label, but dresses in drag and asks his friend “Would your mom still take us camping with me like this?” When he’s roughed up at school, he wants his friend to take photos of his bruised face, but first puts on lipstick. The friend is put off by it, and the boy doesn’t really have an explanation as to why he does it. He just seems to instinctively want to associate his girly side with being beaten—maybe a budding masochism thing.
He’s awkward, he’s hurting, and he’s confused by these new feelings within him. He doesn’t know quite what he is, and he’s just trying to make things up as he goes along.
Not much different in that respect than most people of middle school age, just with a little extra to deal with because his is the gay version of adolescence in a homophobic world.
He develops a crush on a boy who looks four or five years older, but is also a middle schooler and so presumably more like one year older. The older boy shows no signs of being gay, except that even knowing the protagonist’s reputation, he allows him into his life as an admirer/friend of sorts, like maybe he’s at least a little “bi-curious,” or wanting to keep his options open.
The older boy takes the “strong, silent type” thing to an extreme. He’s a laconic, apathetic, expressionless, perpetually bored slacker, really to a laughable, caricatured degree. He’s so cool he might as well be in a coma.
The protagonist spends a lot of time masturbating thinking about the object of his crush. He takes to calling him up at night, using a girl’s voice and name, to lure him into phone sex.
While pretending to be a girl, he eventually agrees to meet the older boy for sex. He shows up in drag and offers himself—“You can fuck me.” The older boy doesn’t seem particular shocked, angry, or offended at having been tricked, or offended at having received a homosexual proposition, just noting in his usual deadpan style the inconsistency between what he was told to expect and reality, and walking off with no more than a shrug. He hesitates slightly, indicating again maybe some minimal curiosity, but then he’s gone.
Back home the mother is shown consoling her crying son, saying something like “It’s up to you how long to hate him” or “It’s up to you how long to be angry with him,” in other words letting him know that one can only be upset about something for as long as one allows oneself to be, that one is ultimately in control of one’s own emotions.
What a weird scene, though, if you think about it. Unless I’m completely misreading it, which is entirely possible with this movie. Maybe it’s somebody’s dream, or maybe she’s talking about something else, I don’t know.
But if you take it literally, evidently the mother of a 13 year old boy is letting him know she shares his disappointment that an older boy turned down the opportunity to buttfuck him.
OK. Pretty broadminded I guess.
The style to me is so frustrating that I had trouble even sitting through this one. What I will say in the film’s favor, though, is that probably more of it sank in than I realized while I was watching it. In its own weird way, it does convey, even to someone like me who’s not receptive to the style, something of what it’s like to experience that kind of life, that kind of adolescent confusion, lust, pain, and growing awareness of homosexual identity.
As I was watching it, I probably would have said that of the last hundred movies I’ve seen, I’d rank Wild Tigers I Have Known somewhere between 98th and 100th. But after it was over and it settled in my mind a bit and I realized there were aspects of it I appreciated after all, I’d probably say somewhere between 80th and 85th. So still a thumbs down, but I didn’t hate it.