White Tiger (2012)
It is rewarding to find a movie that wrong-foots you and challenges your perceptions on certain subjects. White Tiger is exactly such a film. Starting of as a traditional war movie, the story quickly evolves into a supernatural revenge story with shades of Moby Dick. The final act and subsequent sting in the tail ending provides immense food for thought. It proposes an idea that many will find particularly challenging. However the film succeeds in making such a bold pitch because of its inherent Russian earnestness and the fact that that nation’s war experience is so subtly different from others.
White Tiger starts with Russian soldiers find a blackened tank driver in a burnt out wreck with burns to 90% of his body. He miraculously survives and recovers in just three weeks. Remembering nothing of his past life or identity he is renamed Ivan Naydenov (Aleksey Vertkov). He claims to have gained the mystical abilities and to have been charged with the mission of destroying the White Tiger that is decimating Russian tanks. Major Fedotov (Vitaly Kishchenko) reluctantly supports Ivan as he does seem to have uncanny skills in combat. He subsequently assigns to him a customised T-34 along with a sceptical crew who balk at being instructed to attack targets they cannot see. Ivan finally catches up with the allusive Tiger tank in a deserted village but is everything as it seems?
It soon becomes apparent that much of what is happening in White Tiger is not to be taken literally. Both the White Tiger and Ivan himself are symbols. Physical manifestations of war itself, locked in an unending battle; like the human body continuously fighting disease and infection. Finally when the war ends and the Russian POWs are released, Ivan declares that he cannot stop fighting as the White Tiger is still at large. The codicil at the end of the movie shows Hitler calmly discussing the policies he pursued during the war and attempting to justify them. He declares that war is a natural thing and he has simply released a force of nature. “War is fought everywhere and always; it has no beginning and no end. War is life itself”.
Director Karen Shakhnazarov has crafted a singularly enigmatic piece of cinema with White Tiger. It has an eerie quality about it which is not something expected in the war genre. Curiously enough I felt myself reminded of Duel and The Car as well as Herman Melville’s famous novel. The purposely erratic pace of the narrative may not be to everyone’s taste but the performances and prevailing atmosphere are compelling. The ending is a major talking point in itself and I envisage that there will be many discussions and possibly arguments over the many plot elements that are not resolved or explained. However I consider this to be a good thing as cinema has become too much of a passive experience of late. A subject as complex as global war should not be rendered into binary terms; thankfully White Tiger does exactly the opposite.