Exiled on the grounds of a remote country estate near Caithness after an expansive career as a soldier and mercenary, in which he served in campaigns spanning Africa, India and the Middle East, colonial anachronism Guy Wallace has yet to put his killing days behind him. A keen hunter, he wiles away his twilight years stalking deer and rabbits around the Scottish Highlands between sporadic expeditions to Africa to take on (and successively take out) the so-called Big Five. In what is likely to be his last trip, Guy is shadowed by documentary filmmaker and fervent vegan David Graham Scott on the trail of the mighty and majestic Cape Buffalo.
Despite his strong views on the subject as an “extreme vegetarian”, which invariably sees him reject the slaughter of animals for sustenance let alone for sport, Scott’s film isn’t intended as a comprehensive or categorical condemnation of trophy hunting. Instead, it positions and presents itself as a character study; after a chance encounter during the production of a previous project Scott’s curiosity was piqued by Wallace, a singular rarity described by the director in a post-film Q&A at Glasgow Film Festival as “documentary gold-dust”, and after even a few minutes in his company its likely that audiences will be just as entranced by this cantankerous and incorrigible relic.
With his pipe, monocle and mutton chops, Guy Wallace looks like he’s just emerged from a decades-long stint in the jungle — presumably after escaping from Jumanji — and has yet to readjust to civilised society. He seems anachronistic to the point of caricature, with his outdated attitudes and antiquated behaviour; and in his apparently irreconcilable relationship with Scott The End of the Game occasionally veers into odd couple comedy, particularly once the pair relocate to Africa and their differences become even more apparent. Wallace should be a figure of scorn or hate – he even has a golliwog dangling from his car’s interior mirror – but Scott’s unwavering fascination and unlikely friendship with his subject somehow make his frequent profanities somehow easier to understand.
For as disrespectful as Wallace might at first appear, both with regard to the African people and the animals they share their continent with, it becomes increasingly clear that his worldview is as complex as it is contradictory: He is fluent in several African languages and familiar with their customs; he keeps various animals of his own and remains convinced that his way of hunting is ethical and constructive. He is remarkably consistent in his philosophy, both in accepting the risks of confronting nature on its own terms and admitting that he has considered ending his own life in the same manner should he begin to lose his faculties. It’s another cliché, but for Wallace it really does seem to be a question of honour. He’s targeting old males past their prime even if he makes a target of himself in the process.
Scott, meanwhile, proves almost as confounding. Here is a man who has disavowed meat, and yet through his lens the vegan protesters spray-painting sidewalks in central London look just as unreal and absurd as Wallace’s bucket of spider-infested drinking water in the Highlands of Scotland. You’d expect a film on such a controversial subject to be polarising, and yet even Scott seemed surprised when a relatively peaceable audience at a venue above a vegan restaurant in Glasgow quizzed him not on the morality of his subject matter but the demeanor of his subject. After all, Scott is by his own admission complicit in the killing of a Cape Buffalo, hunting it alongside Wallace not for personal glory but professional gain. He may have only been shooting with a camera, but his presence still resulted in the death of an animal and his film constitutes a trophy of sorts in itself.
Whatever your opinion on trophy hunting, there is something to be gleaned from The End of the Game – even if it’s just a few guffaws at Scott or Wallace’s expense. The most telling insight of all must surely come at the end of the film, when the latter receives his mounted buffalo horns in the post and laments their sanitisation for the American market. “They’ve taken the life and soul out of it”, he says, without irony or rebuke. It’s a provocative, compelling watch.