Wilcox is the second movie this year – next to the Golden Bear nominated for the Anthology of the City Spirits – from the recognizable Canadian director Denis Côté. A modest, slightly over 60-minute quasi-documentary is an extremely quiet work which diegesis was stripped of audible dialogues. The entire narrative burden in the audio layer falls on nature and the twang of inanimate objects. In the story of loneliness and the rush to seek true freedom, silence seems to be the right trail to follow the characters who abandoned civilization, becoming outcasts, modern hermits.
Wilcox is a puff piece for today’s hermit for whom the mystical experience is the conscious abandonment of the capitalist world of people and gods in favor of the world of the beast, which is increasingly threatened by human greed. Eponymous, mysterious hero is a character that universalizes the experience of social alienation and the need to break ties with policies. He follows the footsteps of such characters as Dag Aabye (an ultra marathon runner living in the forests of British Columbia, portrayed last year in the film Never Die Easy: The Dag Aabye Story, dir. Justin Pelletier, Adam Maruniak), Everett Ruess (young, 20-year-old an American artist who after three years of lonely travels disappeared in the deserts of New Mexico in 1934), or the most recognizable Christopher McCandless (who for some time lived in an abandoned bus in the wilderness, to which tourists travel today – a story well known from Sean Penn’s Into the Wild from 2007).
By choosing the silent presence of the camera, Côté strives to achieve documentary neutrality. But in a film without commentary, constituting only of a human portrait – even if minimalistic, humanistically beautiful – this neutrality has no meaning. Just as the hero cannot achieve the desired peace, still encountering more people on his way, the viewer will not see anything beyond blathering heads in Canadian, not so wild, backwoods. After all, even the abandoned bus where the hero tries to live, is someone’s property and cannot be opened without human contact.
It is a shame that the director only stops on this human experience. It tempts to show the protagonist’s attempt to achieve freedom from civilization as something more than just a tale of contemporary man’s communication dysfunction. Wilcox talks to encountered people, but like the viewer does not seem to hear them. Nor does he enter into a dialogue with himself or with nature, thus condemning himself to failure.
Paradoxically, it turns out that what was supposed to be an asset in Denis Côté’s film becomes a weakness. Instead of reinforcing the hermetic experience of detachment from the capitalist momentum (or inability to leave civilization, and perhaps even brutal appropriation of nature by it), the silence with such a short format of the film has no time to get anything but to emphasize the emotionality of the lonely hero. However, an hour of film is a bit too little to be able to wander in Canadian forest and seriously consider the condition of modern man.