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Poster Lab: Tyrannosaur

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Poster Lab: <em>Tyrannosaur</em>

Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur is one mean movie, an aggressively harsh extension of the actor-turned-director’s 2007 short Dog Altogether, which, according to Considine himself, was born out of one gimmicky question: Can we show a man kick a dog to death in the first scene and still get the audience to like him? The film’s mix of animalistic violence and savage cruelty is both its calling card and its weakness, arousing undeniably visceral reactions but also reaching for grit and primal symbolism that never quite cohere with their surroundings. In addition to being one of the year’s best, the film’s poster remedies a lot of the film’s thematic incongruity, which begins with the title and bleeds outward. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows that the name Tyrannosaur, apart from carrying the clear connotation of an aging barbarian’s towering ferocity, pertains to an unexpected nickname, making it more of an offbeat metaphor for a sad widower’s unending marital guilt. Furthering the many liberties taken with the Jurassic title, the poster opts for both literal and non-literal interpretations, which makes for excellent viewing and fuses the film’s themes more successfully than the film itself.

Designed by Dan McCarthy, a graphic artist whom Considine reportedly hand-picked thanks to his stark, trademark renderings of dinosaurs and trees, the Tyrannosaur poster makes extraordinary use of all available space, and is just about bisected into two equally interesting and complimentary parts. One’s first instinct is to assume that the fossilized skeleton beneath the earth is indicative of the bitter, ever-stewing monstrousness of lead character Joseph (Peter Mullan), a profoundly unhappy drunk and the latest redemption-bound curmudgeon to grace the miserablist landscape. Indeed it is, and that his figure is placed above it suggests that while he may sometimes be able to remain atop his fury, he is still dwarfed by its vicious grandeur. Underground, the skeleton is tangled in the roots of the barren trees, which speaks to the similarly barren family trees oft-cited by Joseph and his tragic kindred spirit, Hannah (the incredible Olivia Colman), both of whom find their genealogy to be tarnished and somewhat worthless when they haven’t a soul to turn to. What’s most aptly unsettling about the poster’s darker half is quietly hinted at by the bouquet in the tiny figure’s hand, which leads to the fossils’ prominent meaning and makes good on the film’s titular revelation. Indeed, this is an image of a gravesite, and that dinosaur is Joseph’s wife.

Despite the sense that Joseph was never all that nice, such a reading causes everything in the poster to become about his major source of anger?the loss of the woman he didn’t know he loved until she was dead and buried. Suddenly, the title, the nickname, is exclusively hers, lurking beneath the surface in her subterranean territory. The lingering impact of her death is represented by the trees that surround Joseph aboveground, mirror images of their spectral roots and spidery manifestations of her memory. In the distance, there’s a tree of the same shape (they are all exact, if some reversed), implying that his livid grief has the potential to stretch on forever. This is a brilliant, loaded design, and those who’ve seen the movie would likely hope that it depicts Joseph’s final visit to his wife’s grave, and that his misery isn’t indefinite. Because despite all the unwieldy man-bites-dog brutality, Considine does deliver on his conceit, and Joseph does emerge as someone at least mildly sympathetic. The final insinuation of the poster, a poster that’s a triumph for the mere fact that it adds layers of interest to its film, is one of hope, the hope that what it’s truly showing is a farewell.