Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Does it shock you that an American DVD distributor didn't think that The Wisdom of Crocodiles was a marketable title for a vampire movie? That's why it came out here as Immortality, which is actually, as Wendigo notes, a fairly questionable title. On cable TV Po-Chih Leong's movie has its original title back, and it was under that name that Wendigo and I saw the film for the first time last weekend.

It opens starkly with a car hanging from a tree and a narration by Jude Law recounting the time when he fell from a tree as a boy and hung desperately from a branch. On screen, Law plays Steven Grlscz ("grillsh"), who is next seen saving a distraught woman from suicide. This begins a romance consummated when Grlscz bites her neck, sending a spray of blood across a bedroom wall, and drinks her blood. He doesn't seem to benefit from it much. In some agony, he passes a strange crystal, which he saves alongside others, each matched with a woman's name. In a notebook he writes "despair."

The remainder of the film sees Grlscz close in on his next target, the asthmatic intellectual Anne (Elina "Nadja" Loewensohn), while police inspector Healey (Timothy Spall) pursues links between Grlscz and the previous victim, whose submerged body had turned up in a low tide. Grlscz does little to shake his pursuer, actually saving Healey from a street gang so he can have chats about good and evil. Meanwhile, he tells Anne that he needs not just blood to survive, but blood infused with healthy emotions like love. Without loving blood, his body will fall apart -- he already needs to wear a monitor to warn him when he forgets to breathe. The problem is how to get that right kind of blood. It seems as if he'd like Anne to offer herself freely, out of love -- but I bet we'd all like lots of things. The problem for Anne is that Steven's life does seem to be in her hands. He can't quite bring himself to just take her, and if she doesn't give herself to him, he'll die. Will love prevail? -- and should it?

Wendigo realized quickly that this wasn't the typical vampire film. Steven Grlscz isn't a folkloric or fantasy vampire; he comes without mythos, seeing himself as a genetic "mistake." He has none of the traditional vulnerabilities, freely handling crosses and wandering about by day. This makes him more of a generic predator, but also a kind of outsider by virtue of his unique condition. Wendigo recognized his profound alienation, expressed in his typical observer's stance and his habit of taking notes on things. There is no "why" Grlscz is the way he is; there's no medical mystery for us to put together and no hint of a cure. To the extent that it let you draw your own conclusions about Grlscz's condition, or his nature, Wendigo felt that the film respected our intelligence. He found it well written (author Paul Hoffman adapted his own novel), naturalistically plotted and well acted across the board. He was especially impressed by Loewensohn, who was much better here, he thought, then in her own turn as a vampire in Nadja. As this film's vampire, Jude Law gave an interesting, understated yet physically well-imagined performance. He seems to have a very clear idea of what makes Grlscz tick and how to express it to emphasize his alienation and alien-ness without submerging his natural charisma. Whether he's crouching in preparation for an attack or showing off his ability to write with one hand and draw with another, Law's every move seems carefully thought out, whether on the reptilian, mammalian or human level, as is appropriate for someone who apparently needs to will himself to live sometimes. Timothy Spall is also very good in a rare un-weaselly role with homoerotic implications -- at least Wendigo inferred some from the closeness that develops between detective and suspect.

There's no question as far as Wendigo is concerned that Steven Grlscz is a vampire. He meets the minimum criterion: he needs to feed on blood to the point of another person's death in order to survive. It doesn't matter whether he's dead or not, nor is any magical, religious or xenobiological explanation of his state necessary. Grlscz joins a long, distinguished list of fictional "living" vampires, and his lonely singularity makes The Wisdom of Crocodiles another intriguing variation on that theme.

But as the DVD distributor must have asked: what is the wisdom of crocodiles, anyway? Wendigo isn't certain of a single answer -- it could refere to Grlscz's cunning, or to the superior wisdom of predators who don't get their emotions confused, or to the supposed prevalence of the "reptilian brain" in every person. But since we all have a crocodile in us, if you believe Steven Grlscz, Wendigo leaves it to you to see the film and figure it out for yourselves.

Check out a quickie trailer uploaded to YouTube by Vanillaicecream87.

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