Wild Tigers I Have Known

[Note: Wild Tigers I Have Known is
set for a limited theatrical release starting February 23. IFC’s website has full
release information.]

This is
the sort of film that draws memories out of its audience. In a critical
landscape in which unquantifiable things, such as what experiences a given
viewer brings to the theater, can’t reliably contribute to a review, this
causes something of a problem. I felt a good measure of affection for the
film’s protagonist,
Logan, by the time the credits rolled,
but to explain why would require a few paragraphs of me talking about myself. I
can barely do that with my therapist, so you’ve lucked out here.

things that are tangible in Wild Tigers I Have Known are the
stuff of normalcy. The plot is entirely devoted to
Logan coming to an understanding about
his own sexuality, set in the context of middle school cruelty. What ideally
ought to be a warm, alien time for any young person is laden with uncertainty,
self-doubt, and emotional risks. For
Logan, these forces are in service of
admitting his homosexuality; while the direction of
Logan‘s coming-of-age isn’t that of the
majority, the particulars have direct analogues, which broadens the appeal of
the film beyond those who have acute character sympathy.

cinematic methods used to evoke these youthful, ambiguous times are caught
somewhere between reality and fantasy.
Logan experiences dull fantasies that,
by way of cinematography, are given no more weight than his real world. Putting
both experiential planes on the same level results in a suitable and
intentional immaturity. The images take on a quality of lazy heat, summered and
anchorless. The whole of the eighty-minute film is expressed in this mode,
which at once emphasizes the baffled disconnect of
Logan from the rest of society and also
wears on the audience with its single-minded purpose.

For all
the visual and structural ambiguity, Wild Tigers features very little
nuance in either story or character. It is, at its core, the story of a boy who
takes a step toward adulthood, except that step led him of the edge of a cliff.
Sex and death are the orders of the day, with their commingled messages on
life. Repetition of visual metaphors throughout creates a cohesion that
parallels the plotting, but they don’t represent anything deeper than the
gradual unmasking of oneself and the assumption of a real identity.

The remainder
of the running time after
Logan‘s mask literally falls from his
face is by far the most compelling segment of the film. For the briefest moment
he lets his identity loose, but it is received poorly, and sends him hunting
for a new disguise to set up between himself and the world. Direct conflict
bubbles to the surface and, instead of wandering around in a softly-focused
Logan has to deal with sharp reality and the sticks-and-stones
of most everyone he knows. I admire the way the sentiment is communicated,
especially given how little dialogue passes between characters.

But it is
neither this philosophy nor the potency of storytelling that make Wild
Tigers I Have Known
a film worth giving a mild recommendation for. Taken
separately, those facets are worn and in need of re-pointing. The strength of
the film lies in its competent visual styling. Unfortunately,
"competent" is the strongest descriptor that can be mustered.

6 out of 10