CW: pedophilia, rape, torture
3) I’m not as good of a person as I like to pretend I am
As a movie that contains all manner of torture, from drugged cakes to chest-destroying blowtorches, Big Bad Wolves laughs at you as you try to be outraged at its audacious violence. By telling a story about a father (Gidi) seeking revenge against the man (Dror) whom he suspects of molesting, terrorizing, and murdering his daughter, the movie seeks to challenge the viewer’s willingness to wish for one person to do harm to another. Every brutality serves a purpose. Gidi’s methods of torture are not original, they are specifically inspired by the horrors that were wrought upon his daughter. You can neither be shocked by the extremity of his violence nor can you ignore the poetic, eye-for-an-eye justice of watching a man get exactly what he has coming to him. You want to take the moral highground, to recoil, to be shocked by what you’re seeing but while you (hopefully) never enjoy the experience, the real horror of Big Bad Wolves is in realizing that you completely understand the violence unfolding in front of you.
This assumes, of course, that Dror actually did it.
2) Sympathy is a distrustful commodity
The movie is even more uncomfortable in that it isn’t made explicitly clear until near the very end whether or not the man tied to the chair having his toenails ripped out is actually guilty. There is an earlier scene that hints at an answer but it isn’t clear whether the little girl to whom Dror is feeding a birthday cake is his daughter on her actual birthday, or if it is a surrogate daughter figure who is doomed to be the next victim of a monstrous pedophile. It makes our comprehension of Gidi’s bloodlust even more complicated when we realize that his certainty of Dror’s guilt is based entirely on the fact that he is the police’s number one suspect. Dror has never been caught in the act and never confesses to the crimes. Rather than establishing Dror as a monster, he is played unsettlingly (by Rotam Keinan) as a man who is victimized by the police’s accusations. He is gracious in his helpless dismissal from work and he sympathizes with Gidi’s mourning, even while being tortured. Dror’s elusion of guilt is so convincing that for the viewer, we start to see Gidi’s torture switch from righteous to monstrous. By the time that it is revealed that Dror did, in fact, commit the atrocities of which he is accused, his punishment is secondary to Gidi’s need for vengeance. By the end, it’s no longer about poetic justice; Dror simply ends up on the receiving end of blind rage, and machismo.
1) I’m really not as good of a person as I like to pretend I am
Big Bad Wolves is a funny movie. Amongst its brutality and explorations of moral sadism, it makes us laugh. It’s uncomfortable to see the humour in a man getting a phone call from his over-bearing mother while he’s trying to break another man’s fingers but, like with its explicit violence, the movie dares you to try and pretend you don’t get it. The experience of watching Big Bad Wolves is not a pleasurable one and it’s not an enjoyable one. It’s an uncomfortable, disturbing watch that has the power to make you feel like you’re much more comfortable with evil than you’d like to think. But, at least you’re not murdering children, so that’s something… I guess.