Tyrannosaur | Religion In the Room


By David D. Robbins Jr. | The Fade Out
Tyrannosaur (2011)

Tyrannosaur is the name widower Joseph (Peter Mullan) gave to his wife, because she was a big woman, who sent ripples across the surface of his morning coffee whenever she walked down the steps of their two-story apartment. But in truth, it’s Joseph who is the real tyrannosaur in the film, and some might wonder about the entire gender of men by association. Director Paddy Considine’s story begins with a drunken, severely unhinged Joseph taking out his frustration on his dog “Bluey”. He’s left a tavern after getting rousted and kicks the dog to death in a back alley. His anger at the world and himself is so deep he can’t control flying off the handle at nearly everything in his path. (In that way, he’s a blue-collar cousin to Johnny in Mike Leigh’s “Naked”.) Next we see Joseph sitting in another pub, stewing as three increasingly loud and obnoxious youths joke with each other while playing pool. The vulgarity of the conversation and the loudness of it irritates Joseph into a biblical anger. He tells them all to shut up. One threatens him with a pool cue, turns his back, and Joseph knocks him out with a punch from behind. Joseph is a man of many contradictions, able to kick to death his own dog in a moment of violent exasperation, and yet he’s angered by the impropriety of some loudmouthed youths. The only real human interactions we initially see from Joseph are when he consoles an old friend who is dying of cancer, and his pleasant banter with a neglected neighborhood child.

One of the most intriguing parts of the film (bear in mind it plays a minor role, but the one I’ve chosen to look at in this post) is how it portrays religion. There is nothing more aggravating than watching phony religion in a film, the kind that views the world in strict black and white, devoid of gradation. “Tyrannosaur” isn’t part of that flimsy tradition. After Joseph knocks one youth unconscious and threatens a second one in the pub, he runs out, searching for a place to collect his thoughts, more than looking for a place to hide. After trying to open one random shop door and finding it locked, he happens upon a thrift-shop (like a Salvation Army), opens the door, runs inside, and hides behind a row of coats hanging on a portable metal clothesline. A middle-class woman who runs the store, Hannah (Olivia Colman), sees him and does something rather unique. Instead of showing fear, or calling the cops, she meekly asks Joseph if he is alright. Then she asks if he’s hiding from someone, and if he wants a cup of tea. Silence. She asks his name, to which he replies “Robert DeNiro” and “fuck off”. Then she says, “Robert, can I pray for you?” He doesn’t answer. Hannah walks over to the coat rack, gets down on her knees (still without ever seeing the man behind the rack), and begins to pray for him, describing in her prayer a man who is “hurting”, asking god to help him and to relieve his burdens. This small gesture causes “the tyrannosaur” to gasp for breath through heavy weeping. It’s a startling and memorable beginning to a film.

Joseph later tells Hannah, in one of his rages, that she’s a willful idiot and that god is certainly not his father, because “my father was a cunt”. We later learn that Hannah is in an abusive relationship, suffering at the hands of a sadistic husband, played by Eddie Marsan. Her husband not only beats her, but does things that would bring any film-goer to tears. So, part of the story’s tension builds from seeing Joseph and Hannah connecting in small ways, and wondering if and when her husband will receive his comeuppance via a monster with a heart. There’s also a scene where Hannah, despairing with the knowledge that she’ll be beaten when she gets home, throws a book at a photo of Jesus she has hanging at her workplace. In other words, this film deals with real religion, one where real people struggle for meaning, purpose, love and doubt amid horrible circumstances. Yes, the film is stark, and painful viewing, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find two greater performances than Mullan and Coleman.

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