Animal Kingdom

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-Brittaney Petsinis 

The director of Animal Kingdom (2010), David Michod, conveys the many intended ideas of the film through an incredibly clever manipulation of a range of film elements and qualities. As we are introduced to the character of Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frenchville), following the death of his own mother, his disorientation becomes apparent. Next to his mother’s dead body, J ironically appears distracted by the television, which plays the game show, Deal or No Deal. Through the character’s limited expression and rather blank face as he stares at the television, we are exposed to the idea that the character appears somewhat disconnected, from both his mother and also the world itself. This idea is further expressed through the phone call that J makes to his grandmother, particularly when he asks her if she remembers him. The conversation between the two is incredibly awkward, informing us of the lack of communication between himself and his family. The introduction of J’s grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jackie Weaver), allows the audience to automatically develop the intended assumption that J will be safe. As she walks up the stairs of J’s flat, we are introduced to what seems her vibrant personality, portrayed particularly through her speech, in which is cleverly supported by her bright, blue attire. She addresses J as sweetie and love, allowing audiences to fall under the impression that she will play the motherly figure in J’s life. Despite the affection and vibrancy that Smurf portrays, Michod wonderfully develops the idea that J will be entering a world of crime as he is welcomed into Smurf’s ‘world’. This idea becomes rather apparent through the mafia/criminal sounding music, largely initiated by the deepness of the violin instrument, which begins immediately as J and his grandmother hug.     

The title of the film, Animal Kingdom, is clearly suggestive of the animal world and the idea of the ‘survival of the fittest’. The director has evidently encapsulated this idea throughout the film, through the constant human “hunting”, establishing suspense and anticipation upon audiences. Brilliantly reflective of this, is Natalie’s dead body as she is carried outside by her killer, Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn). The expressive, hard lighting in this scene highlights parts of her body and helps to portray her character as the victim. The trees on either side of the frame develop the metaphor that Pope is an animal walking out of a jungle with its helpless prey. Michod has further explored and established this through Smurf’s attempt to set up J’s death. The conversation that takes place between Smurf and Randal in regards to the situation, allows for the realisation of Smurf’s capability of criminal behaviour. Weaver’s brilliant acting in this scene, allows for the establishment of an authoritative, manipulative character, largely through her direct and focused attention as she stares Randal in the eye while she speaks with a calm, yet powerful voice. Her straight posture and limited movement combined with the constant raising of her eyebrows as she speaks her powerful words, indeed, belittles Randal, and here, the domination of Smurf over Randal is made prominent, through the many well manipulated elements. In this scene, Smurf is established as an emotionless character. As she wipes her nose with a tissue while she speaks, it becomes evident that there is a falsely expressed sadness about the planned death of her own grandson. Smurf’s sinister side and mind, is further established by the cold, low-key lighting, casting shadows on her face and thus, highlighting her expression. This creates a sense of distrust upon the audience as we become aware of her criminal capabilities.

In the closing sequence, the camera manipulation is incredibly effective in communicating a range of ideas.  The point of view camera shot from J’s perspective, as he walks into the house and toward Smurf, initiates the idea that he is perhaps creeping up on her, thus creating a rather sinister interpretation by audiences for a short moment. It appears that the camera is unsteadily held, which wonderfully supports this idea. We are able to acknowledge J’s growth and progression as we witness a more confident character in comparison to the character we are first introduced to, who expressed an extreme disorientation and lack of confidence. The point of view camera shot, from J’s perspective allows us to develop the idea that he is now, somewhat in control.

Cleverly, the wide camera shot of the men, whilst they stand in the backyard, indeed conveys the distance between them and creates a sense of tension and unease upon the audience. The camera shot allows us to make this interpretation as the positioning of the men is inevitably noticed. J stands at the door as he speaks to the two remaining brothers from a distance while they stand at the sizzling barbeque.

In this scene, we are at first introduced to a rather upbeat, positive atmosphere, particularly with the softly played music of Sun in Cuba, the sizzling barbeque and the chirping bird bells. The director has very effectively created a feeling of comfort and ease for the audience. This is turned drastically through the absence of sound when Pope sits on a chair next to the window in J’s bedroom, while J lies on his bed. Here, there is an extreme initiation of suspense and tension, brilliantly building up to the unexpected sound of the gun shot. 

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