Mongrel: minimally styled film posing the question of what makes a human or a monster

Nik Kacevski, “Mongrel” (2021)

A very minimalist little film, featuring just two actors, “Mongrel” poses the universal question of what makes someone human or less than human. Everyone knows of someone who has behaved or acted in ways unbecoming of beings supposedly endowed with intelligence and compassion, and most of us who live in technologically oriented societies have seen or know of films about non-human beings or beings created to serve humans (such as robots or part-human hybrids) who demonstrate more “human” qualities than their human masters do. In “Mongrel”, scientist Anna (Ellie Gall) is caring for her father (Stefo Nantsou) who is dying from a terminal illness. In the meantime, she has been running a project to create an organ donor using her father’s cells and the cells of a pig, and the result is Bardolph (Nantsou again), a human / pig hybrid who has learned to speak English and to converse with Anna. In the short conversations that Anna has with both her father and Bardolph – well, she did try to communicate with dear old Dad but he ignored her and knocked all the tablets she offered him to the ground – viewers can see at once who is the pig and who is the human.

The time comes for Anna to harvest an organ from Bardolph so her father can continue to live … but Bardolph is distraught at having to die after a (presumably) short existence. He is willing though to do whatever Anna decides … and so Anna finds herself in a very morally tight spot indeed.

I must confess that while watching the film, I couldn’t help but cry a little – such was the skill of the actors, Nantsou in particular, in the way they presented the moral dilemma facing Anna. What happens next after the dilemma is presented is bound to shock viewers into realising that Anna is, after all, her father’s daughter … and Bardolph is his father’s son. What makes an individual a human or a monster ends up not so clear-cut after all.

For such a short film with a tiny cast and equally tiny budget, “Mongrel” is well made with a plot driven entirely by its dialogue and its actors’ facial expressions and body language. The make-up and prosthetics used to bring Bardolph to life are very good, allowing Nantsou to move freely if stiffly and enable him to act effectively and subtly. The plot is skilfully written to incorporate not one but two twist endings, depending on how audiences interpret the final scene.

This film would make ideal watching for a philosophy class to illustrate moral dilemmas that may one day face genetics and medical researchers, other scientists, and the corporations, institutions and bureaucracies that fund such research and its offshoots.