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Wednesday
Jan112017

Wolf

Casual readers of these pages may assume that the numerous entries on the horrible and supernatural betoken an unhealthy obsession, but this is not the case. What we perceive in our world, the mundane simplicity of money and biological needs, is only a fraction of what might actually exist. That doesn't mean, of course, that the monsters stalking us when darkness falls are any realer, cached away in some corner that conspiracies and good luck prevent us from ever detecting (not impossible, but very unlikely). Nor do they express, as pseudo-science has put forth in their computerized mumbo-jumbo, unconscious desires to kill or enslave; those urges are nothing more than the products of very sick minds whom reason, love, and charity might never reach. No, all of this has nothing to do with reality because it has to do with the greatest mystery of our world, that of the human soul. We neither rightly know whether we possess souls, nor, if we do, what on or beyond earth might happen to them when our bodies twitch and exhale for the last time. Some faiths are convinced that our souls move on somewhere – to another body, another plane of existence, even perhaps another dimension – and those bodies are not limited to fellow humans. And although this review's title is also a translation of my surname, it actually refers to this diverting film.

Our protagonist is Will Randall (Jack Nicholson, in a last hurrah before age triumphed), a literary editor and loyal employee of publishing magnate Raymond Alden (Christopher Plummer). Randall's rapport with his staff, who obviously care about his well-being, perhaps extended his long and generally productive time at the publishing house – exactly enough time for Alden to take Randall's steady work for granted. As it were, the fiftysomething Randall with his soft reserve, mild manners, and inability to come up with new ideas almost obliges Alden to look towards a future with someone not a few years from social security as the house's steward. The future turns out to be a smarmy and revolting fannycushion by the name of Stewart Swinton (James Spader), who also happens to be Randall's protégé and in every way his foil. While Randall is good-natured, dull, unimaginative, and sensitive, Swinton's boisterous creativity is devoted utterly and completely to his selfish advancement regardless of the obstacles or societal conventions. Alden breaks the news to Randall with the smug cowardice of someone who thinks that he's being kind to lower creatures ("Will, you should really consider working for our East European section" – contempt that only the rich and merciless can think of as honesty). Despite booming political interest in the region, East European books were more popular when they weren't allowed to be published in their home countries; there also lingers the unsubtle hint that a second-rate editor should be handling the "second world." Randall is shattered; Swinton's blinking claims of innocence are undermined by his greasy, almost fanged grin; and the new East European editor retreats to the childless house he shares with his indifferent wife (Kate Nelligan) – a physician who often looks at him as if he had just been pulled out of a morgue drawer – and, exhausted, he falls right asleep.

It is still dark when he awakes. His wife returns home and informs him that it's eight o'clock – in the evening. How tired does someone have to be to sleep twenty-two hours? A good question that Randall does not immediately answer because he's too preoccupied with a weird realization: not only does he feel completely rejuvenated, his five senses have been heightened to superhuman levels. He walks through his office building and distinctly perceives the details of phone conversations a few hundred feet away; he can smell the vodka on his coworker's breath from across the floor; and, much more pertinent to his work, he can speed through manuscripts without the pharmacy rack spectacles he's relied on for years. Randall is not a particularly brilliant man, but he knows intervention when he sees it and consults an Indian mystic (the late Om Puri) on the nature of his ailment – if that's really the right word. The mystic weaves him a tale around the curse of that old fiend, the canis lupis, one of the most feared and misunderstood of the earth's predators. "One doesn't need to be bitten by a wolf to turn into a wolf," avers the mystic, "some people can become wolves because of their souls," or something to that effect. But Randall has already stopped listening: he was, in fact, bitten by a wolf (one evening after slamming into the animal on a snowy deserted road at the film's very beginning) although the fur trade made them extinct in upstate New York centuries ago. The mystic concludes his briefing with a strange request with which Randall probably does not comply, and the plot devolves in very entertaining fashion into a love triangle with Swinton, Randall, and Alden's stunning and rebellious daughter (Michelle Pfeiffer). First-rate acting (especially from Spader, who is stupendous) and a wealth of amusing detail separate this story from many others with similar themes, structure, and violent revelations. And the ending, apparently refilmed many times, will remind you of an old phrase: homo homini lupus – man is wolf to man, or in this case a whole pack of beasts.

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