Why Wildcat (2022) is this year’s most surprising founder story

With Melis balking at both Avatar & Babylon’s 3-hour plus run times, we walked an off-beaten path for our traditional Christmas theater movie to Wildcat, which at its surface is a “save the wild animals” documentary with cats. Easy feel-good cute fluff for cat parents! Light spoilers ahead.

The R-rating should’ve been a tell. Instead, you’re fired deep into a tumultuous one-way 18-month mission where two white kids are way over their heads trying to pull off the world’s FIRST successful wild ocelot rehabilitation and release in a Peruvian jungle.

How Samantha and Harry linked up is vague. Sam is trying to finish her Ph.D. and run a fledgling conservation company, Hoja Nueva. Rehabbing carnivores stemmed from Sam’s original idea to study and rehab wolves in the US, but not surprisingly, the regulation and politics stunted her efforts. So she decided she had a bigger impact operating in Peru. The Amazon was the wild frontier to experiment with new conservation ideas.

Harry came straight into the jungle after fighting in Afghanistan since he was 18. Harry is the ultimate example of a flawed co-founder who goes all-in, having zero college and animal handling expertise. But what he lacks in know-how he 100% compensates with grit and instinct. He literally puts his mind and body through hell in those 18 months doing daily seven-hour jungle patrols.

It gets worse. Harry has troubling PTSD self-harm and suicidal thoughts as he fails and struggles. Throughout the film, you wonder what Harry would do if this whole ocelot deal doesn’t work. Like real Heart of Darkness woe. Sam is self-aware because of her abusive alcoholic father, she enables and supports Harry despite his mental health.

And it is Sam who’s pitching back at the university for funds, finding supporting local hires, and shipping back supplies to Harry who has doubled down by plunging even deeper into the jungle after Khan, their first ocelot, was killed by poachers. He embraced the bush, and it clearly shows when Harry’s family visits his isolated shanty for the first time. “Best vacation ever” his younger brother beams as a night walk reveals the incredible wildlife.

They were clearly a troubled lot. But kudos to letting the audience reflect on the human elements before and after their ordeal, that’s the real heart of this story. Because every founder’s beginning is similar: being at the exact place and time where they used what little they had to try to pull off the impossible through the jungle’s teeth.

Like baby ocelot Keanu, only when they went too far did they realize how far they could go.

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