Synopsis: After almost killing a rival hockey team’s player during a match, Tyson Burr struggles to rebuild his life.
Overall: It would be a gross oversimplification to say that Kevan Funk’s Hello Destroyer is a film about violence, much as it would be a gross oversimplification to say that it’s a film about hockey. Yes, the film follows Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson), a professional hockey enforcer who gets dropped from his team after hitting an opposing player so hard he shattered one of his vertebrae and hemorrhaged his brain. Hello Destroyer is a film about Canada, specifically the institutionalized forms of toxic masculinity suffocating so many of its young men. As Funk explained in an interview with the Toronto Star:
“The hockey part is like a red herring or a misnomer…the only reason it’s about hockey is that I needed a big cultural institution at the centre of this film…if I set it in the U.S., it would probably be the military. But I did want to make a film that was aggressively and expressively Canadian.”
Through Hello Destroyer, Funk seeks to examine if not exorcise the forces that first controlled and then destroyed Tyson’s life. As with Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf—another film which sought to define a Canadian cinematic identity and debuted alongside Hello Destroyer at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival—there might only be 3-5 pages of “plot” in the entire thing. Instead Funk dives into the internal emotional life of its characters through measured introspection, quiet character moments, and deliberate slowness. As I’m always eager to point out, “slowness” doesn’t always equal “tedious.” And though popcorn audiences used to blockbuster fare may find Hello Destroyer interminable, there isn’t a wasted shot, scene, or edit in the entire film. A master class in tone and pacing, Hello Destroyer is a mood piece which counter-intuitively gets it point across more successfully than a big-budget award-bait “message film.”
The tragedy of Hello Destroyer is that Tyson’s life was ruined for being too toxically masculine. His coach treated his team like literal warriors, regaling them with stories of King Arthur and awarding game VIPs with a ceremonial First Nations headdress. (It’s one of the film’s cleverest details that the hockey players liberally borrow slang and imagery from non-white cultures despite there not being a single non-white person in the entire film, suggesting an intractable link between destructive white masculinity and cultural appropriation.) When the coach throws a locker room fit in the middle of a losing game, Tyson takes his orders to “protect the house” too literally by attacking a member of the other team. But after it’s revealed that Tyson may have permanently hospitalized him, he’s unceremoniously dropped from the team, humiliated in the press, and plopped back into regular life despite having no training or preparation for any kind of career than sports. And after being run through the crucible of frat-house style team hazing, he’s too emotionally withdrawn and guarded to express himself to others, further isolating him from even his own family. In one of the film’s most harrowing metaphors, Tyson’s forced to get a job cleaning up the gore from the floor of a slaughterhouse; after living a life defined by violence, he must now wade through its literal leavings.
Hello Destroyer is a grim, ultimately pessimistic film. But it surprises with moments of warmth that suggest that there may be a life after loss for those warped by institutionalized violence, particularly in Tyson’s friendship with Eric (Joe Dion Buffalo), another blue-collar joe who’s made peace with the disappointments in his life and is the first person to truly demonstrate love and acceptance towards him. This is remarkably refreshing: too many movies suggest that broken men can only be “fixed” by either women or their own willpower. Here’s a film that suggests that only men savaged by the system can truly help and heal one another. It’s a bold idea, and it’s just one of many things that makes Hello Destroyer an essential piece of contemporary Canadian cinema.
Featured Image: Tabula Dada