Siegfried and Roy were a flamboyant cornerstone of Las Vegas entertainment for nearly 30 years with their magic tricks and striking tigers. That all changed when Roy Horn was attacked by one of his exotic big cats last fall. According to spectators, halfway through one of the shows the tiger bit Horn on the arm and then lunged at his neck and dragged him off the stage like a rag doll. Horn is still recuperating from the incident.
Although we have grown accustomed to seeing these majestic beasts in circuses and zoos, it took this bizarre episode to reinforce a very basic law of nature: You can take the tiger out of the wild, but you can never take the wild out of the tiger. One imagines that this mantra was repeated over and over again on the set by the animal trainer during the filming of Two Brothers.
The story is told from the point of view of two tiger cubs, Sangha and Kumal, in early 20th-century Southeast Asia. The brothers are born in the ruins of an elegant and long-forgotten Buddist temple and roam like young princes amidst the moss-covered statues with their mother and father. Their family is torn apart when fortune hunter Aidan McRory (played by Guy Pearce) and his team discovers the abandoned temple and loots it for the statues that are collecting rich bounties in the West.
McRory, a big game hunter who writes exciting books about his adventures, is forced to kill the father as Sangha escapes with his mother. With great fascination, McRory captures Kumal and takes a liking to the frisky young tiger cub.
The two brothers are led into separate lives–Kumal is mercilessly domesticated in a circus, while Sangha is eventually captured and sold to a royal menagerie and trained to be a fighter for sport. The brothers are eventually reunited in an arena to brawl to the death. Without wanting to give too much more away, let me simply say that the brothers end up having a rollicking good time at their reunion.
I grew up watching Marlin Perkins host The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on television. Like every other kid, I was amazed at the beauty, nobility, and ferociousness of tigers. Two Brothers brought back that wonderment. Besides being visually captivating, it is a great story for kids about family bonds, sibling affection, and respect for nature. The movie ends soberly: “A century ago, there were over 100,000 tigers like Kumal and Sangha living in the wild. Today, fewer than 5,000 remain.”
The tale is heartbreaking, humorous, and inspiring–without being some anti-hunting screed. While the movie does probe the ramifications of keeping wild animals in captivity, it does so without hitting you over the head with the butt of a hunting musket. Is there anyone who thinks it is a good thing that there are more captive tigers in Texas than in the wild in any one area of the rest of the world?
The charismatic French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who directed the critically acclaimed The Bear, refused to paint Aiden McRory as a heartless “Great White Hunter” with bloodlust. (Annaud says that there are numerous diary excerpts of hunters in India, Southeast Asia, and Africa who used tigers as shooting practice or for their fur or teeth.) Instead, McRory is far more complicated and introspective than his dapper smuggler image would portray, especially after coming face to face with the princely nature of one of God’s most elegant and muscle-bound creatures.
The film set was controlled by special tiger-proof security nets and the animals roamed free within the area, often covering several acres. “We spent our days in cages, behind bars and nets with the animals working around us,” says Annaud. “We set several cameras for each shot because we could never be exactly sure which way the tiger would go.”
“I have enormous respect for these animals,” says Two Brothers animal trainer Thierry Le Portier. “You cannot change their personalities, you can only add training…. As soon as you step away, he is back to being a normal tiger with all of the tiger’s ferocity.”
For much of the movie, I was simply amazed at how some of the scenes were created. After all, the tigers are not props, they are the actors. One hears nightmare stories about prima-donna actresses in Hollywood who are terrors to work with; but nothing could possibly be more nerve-racking than dealing with a performer who can literally take your arm off when he falls into a foul mood.
One imagines that Siegfried and Roy would heartily agree.