9/2/16

RHINOCEROS - REVIEW


Based on an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, it doesn't get much weirder than Rhinoceros, the 1974 film starring Zero Mostel as a man who slowly turns into a rhinoceros and Gene Wilder as his alcoholic friend who has to accept living in a world peopled with rhinos.

If you went into this one expecting The Producers, then you might end up feeling slightly confused about what you've just witnessed. Rhinoceros is unapologetically surreal and abstract as characters talk about some kind of rhinoceros pandemic where people literally become rhinos until it becomes a worldwide event but you never actually see one of them. This certainly helps sell the fact that the world is going completely mad but it makes for a stagey film and some might feel almost claustrophobic watching it. It really is like sitting through an absurdist play but, since it's also directed with plenty of movement and energy by Tom O'Horgan, it's also like watching one insane whirlwind of a film. Zero Mostel reprises his role from the stage and gives one of his wildest and most stand-out performances: who else could have pulled off such an off-beat role so well?

Gene Wilder's character is somewhat more restrained than Mostel's but, by the end, you see him lose it and come to the sad realisation that if he doesn't conform and become a rhinoceros like the others, he'll be more alone than ever. The opening half hour of the film is the funniest and easiest to consume since it's mostly just the two mismatched leads interacting prior to the apocalyptic denouement. The writing is sharp and all the performances are excellent, the film is very funny but also bittersweet and completely out of its mind: by the time Zero Mostel is running around his apartment screaming, destroying everything in sight, you'll either sit there wide-eyed and look forward to more madness or lose interest. This is definitely not a film for everyone and it's not surprising that critics back in the day didn't exactly celebrate it but, then again, The Producers wasn't a hit initially either.

Rhinoceros isn't the most straight-forward comedy you'll ever watch but that adds to its charm and makes it even more unique. With performances and writing this good and a story this random, Rhinoceros is something of a must-see: it's a classic comedy like no other with a fantastic cast and it's a film that'll stay with you long after watching it.

Highly recommended.

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