The End Of The Game


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The End Of The Game
"There's some fascinating, deep psychological stuff on display here, and this is the real strength of the film."

If Guy Wallace were a fictional character, people would complain that he was unrealistic. From his hoary sideburns to his muddy tweeds to his consummate guffaws, he's a museum piece, a relic of Empire. He's served in the army, lived in various parts of Africa and India, faced considerable deprivation and lived the high life at the expense of people he doesn't quite seem to recognise as human. Now, before he dies, he wants to hunt and kill a Cape buffalo. So why is he taking a vegan with him?

Filmmaker David Graham Scott isn't just vegan, he's somebody who has devoted a lot of his time to the animal rights movement. Like all the best documentarians, however, he's intrigued by people whose outlook he doesn't understand. Wallace seems to feel the same way, and, despite his professed loathing of pretty much anybody different from himself, is quite courteous about inviting Scott into his world. There's none of the teasing or attempts to tempt with meat that vegans often experience, at least not on tape. Wallace says he hates political correctness but when he comments to a friend, part way through, about his blunder in using a racist term in front of Scott, it becomes clear that he's been modifying his language to avoid offending him - pretty much the definition of PC. He certainly hasn't done it for the sake of the black Africans they meet on safari, who take his behaviour in their stride and give the impression that they deal with people like him all the time. Their endless patience has an undercurrent of humour. They cater for Scott with ease but regard him somewhat like an exotic pet, perplexed as to what he's doing there.

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Scott asks himself the same question as the film goes on. He handles the physical demands of hunting pretty well, whether accompanying Wallace on a trip to shoot rabbits near his Scottish highland home or venturing out into the African bush. He really is in at the deep end, though, and only a casual warning keeps him from being lion food at one point, as nobody had previously thought to tell him not to wander around the camp after dark. The sight of animal carcasses, whether the work of lions or humans, clearly disturbs him deeply, and in this regard he becomes as much a subject of the film as Wallace is. Watching a boy get blooded after his first kill, he recoils, seeing it as a primitive ritual; yet it is perhaps the start of his journey to understanding the relationship between hunter and hunted. Having felt and smelled the blood on his own face, the boy won't eat meat again without understanding where it comes from.

Some of those accompanying Wallace and Scott on their trip describe the former as representing the past, the latter the future. Neither man seems to mind, but much more interesting are the qualities that they share. Wallace talks about the reason why hunting appeals to him, how it feels to pit one's wits against a creature which, if a single mistake is made, could easily turn around and take one's life. Over time, they come to respect one another's sense of connection to nature. Scott admits that his feelings are complicated by an increasing desire to prove he's good enough to be part of the group. There's some fascinating, deep psychological stuff on display here, and this is the real strength of the film. The rhetorical arguments, by contrast, have little room to develop - late on, the idea that big game hunting can help fund the prevention of poaching and make nature reserves financially viable is introduced, but although Scott treats it cautiously, the mounting challenges to this narrative go unmentioned.

Although some viewers may feel uncomfortable about Wallace being given room to air his racist views, The End Of The Game reflects the anthropological approach of the colonialists by depicting him in, as it were, his native habitat, his traditional behaviours compromised only by the desire to make a good impression on Scott. This is much more valuable and interesting than a less sympathetic approach might have been. It contributes to a lingering sense of sadness - one doesn't have to share Wallace's values to note the poignancy in his recognition that he's one of the last of his kind. Like the animals he pursues, he seems too big for the modern world, too destructive by nature and unable to change. His genial acceptance that the world has changed flies in the face of his bluster; sometimes it's hard to be sure how much is real and how much performance, like the buffalo tilting its head and stamping it heels to try and head off real conflict, aware of its vulnerability.

Viewers opposed to hunting are unlikely to have their minds changed by Wallace and his friends, but may find it easier to understand where they're coming from. There's less here for viewers who are themselves hunters, but what they see of Scott may lead them to question some of their own assumptions. If common ground is to be found in the struggle to preserve our natural environment, films like this have a valuable role to play.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2017
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The End Of The Game packshot
A documentary portrait of a big game hunter who is determined to kill a cape buffalo.

Director: David Graham Scott

Starring: Guy Wallace

Year: 2017

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2017

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