Most romantic film #37: Wolf (1994)

Forget Twilight and its series. This is the most (only?) romantic werewolf film–for adults. Stars Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. Also a young and evil James Spader (my WASP crush).

Jack Nicholson plays Will Randall, an eminently civilized man who is the head of a civilized publishing house. He is married to an equally civilized woman, and they have a perfectly reasonable, rational marriage. His life is civilized, stable, comfortable and boring.

One night on the way home from a terrible dinner party, Will has car trouble. Worse, he is bitten by a wolf on the hand. As a result, he starts to experience a sharpening of the senses. He hears his staff gossiping up and down the halls… and discovers he is being replaced. He smells his wife’s lover on her… and discovers she is having an affair with his young protege. He becomes more assertive, more aggressive, more self-confident.

He meets his boss’s daughter Laura (Pfeiffer) and finds himself attracted to her, despite her hard-edged attitude. She helps him through the transition, although she has no idea what’s wrong with him. Surprisingly, they fall in love, despite his predicament and her inner devastation at the death of her brother.

Spader becomes the perfect villain, trying to frame Will and seduce Laura.

On several levels the film is a metaphor about the thin veneer of civilization we all wear, only a few centuries thick, over the primal id within us. Will is a man strapped into a strait-jacket of polite behavior and conventional expectation, the kind of behavior that allows bullies (like Plummer and Spader) to exist.

But it is a surprsingly romantic film once Will and Laura meet: they are soulmates, two lost souls barely surviving who find hope in each other. Laura’s rudeness meets its match in Will’s honesty. Will’s repression needs Laura’s riskiness. Oh, and handcuffs.

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