Filmed on location in Cambodia and Thailand, Two Brothers is the sweet story of two tiger cubs separated at an early age, and the adventures that change and eventually reunite them. Sangha and Kumal are born in the jungles of Southeast Asia in the early 20th century. They frolic amid the ruins of a Buddhist temple—their home. Batting coconuts like soccer balls. Chasing butterflies. But the innocence of youth proves fragile when a British treasure hunter/author named Aidan McRory unknowingly encroaches on the tigers’ sanctuary with a band of gun-toting, dynamite-wielding locals eager to harvest large pieces of sacred statues. Mom and Sangha dart one way. Dad and Kumal go another. Shots ring out. Feisty young Kumal is left alone.
McRory befriends the little guy, but after the Westerner is jailed for looting the ruins, Kumal gets sold to a circus. Eugene Normandin, a kind yet corrupt governor, arranges for McRory’s release so the hunter can trap a tigress and release it on cue during a rigged big-game hunt meant to impress a prince. Normandin needs the Prince’s permission to build an important road on his land, and figures a trophy tigress will earn him favor. Who lands in the trap? Little Sangha and his mother. After the safari the passive Sangha is adopted as a pet by Normandin’s young son, Raoul, until a run-in with the family dog lands the cub in the Prince’s personal zoo.
A year passes. And the Prince’s animal trainer breaks Sangha of his gentle disposition and makes him a warrior. Meanwhile, circus life is cruel to Kumal, who seems lonely and despondent. (His masters have tamed him and are forcing him to jump through rings of fire.) But the fire in his heart has been reduced to apathetic embers. So the house pet is now ferocious, while the natural born fighter has become passive. Before long, circumstance pits the fully grown brothers against one another in mortal combat. Can Kumal survive against this ferocious foe? No one watching the contest is prepared for what happens next.
The cubs’ parents possess an instinctive love for them, and put themselves in harm’s way to protect their offspring. When little Sangha gets treed by a nasty, razor-toothed varmint, his brave brother comes to the rescue—a fraternal bond preserved in maturity. McRory tends to a wounded man. He also shows kindness to Kumal, feeding the cub and talking gently with him (later offering to buy his freedom from heartless men). A boy plays hide and seek with Sangha, and is shown sleeping peacefully with the cub. After being sold to a circus, the depressed Kumal is pitied and comforted by the tiger in the next cage.
The Prince’s desire to bag a tiger as a trophy is portrayed as shallow and inhumane. His need for affirmation stems from his father’s disappointment that he wasn’t a more ruthless son. Torn by those memories the Prince asks a caged Sangha, “Do you, too, believe that one must be cruel to gain respect?” Clearly the filmmakers find virtue in compassion and mourn the fact that some leaders rule by intimidation.
Families who embrace Two Brothers can examine McRory’s motives for hunting tigers and why his attitude toward Kumal and Sangha changes near the end of the film. McRory and a young woman discuss the morality of hunting tigers versus “hunting” statues. In the circus, Kumal is forced to jump through rings of fire—a low point in his life that actually pays dividends later. This scene, in which all things work together for good, can be used to illustrate the truth of Romans 8:28 to young Christians facing hard times.
Once the adult Kumal and Sangha are on the loose, McRory takes responsibility for creating a dangerous situation (“This whole mess is my fault”) and steels himself for the unpleasant task of shooting them before they can hurt anyone. He promises to hang up his gun for good after the deed is done. Meanwhile, Young Raoul wants to believe the best of Sangha and Kumal, who are a potential threat to man because they have never learned to hunt in the wild. Raoul is convinced they’re not killers, and takes a bold step to prove it. It’s one thing to believe a tiger is harmless; approaching Sangha in the wild is a supreme act of faith and trust. He tells McRory, “It’s good to take a chance sometimes.” Raoul's actions certainly shouldn't be imitated, but in the interest of happy endings, his words prove true.
A native gives McRory a good luck charm. Buddhism is the local religion, though the film doesn’t explain or endorse that faith. There are two ambiguous mentions of the Creator: A kind handler tells the “doomed” Kumal, “God go with you, my brother.” A traitorous native says, “We know our lord by the gifts he brings.”
Animals only! The film opens with foreplay between two adult tigers. The male stalks the female, attempting to mount her before the camera pulls away.
Moments of peril, gunfire, tiger fatalities and people’s cruelty toward animals may prove too intense for sensitive, very young children. The protective father tiger attacks an intruder and is shot dead. (The man is injured, but not fatally.) The tigress receives a flesh wound. Tigers square off in an arena. One grabs a man by the arm. The other pounces on a guy brandishing a gun. Hunters stalk tigers with intent to kill, lighting brush fires to corral their prey. As a cub Sangha wounds a dog (offscreen) and gets evicted as the mother of the house claims, “It has the taste of blood now. We can’t keep him.” We learn that an over-the-hill circus tiger is killed to make a trophy of his skin.
Crude or Profane Language
The expression “bloody h---” is joined by exclamations of “for God’s sake” and “in the name of God.” Amid flurries of French, there is a foreign profanity as well.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters drink wine, smoke cigarettes and puff cigars. A man drags on a pipe.
Other Negative Elements
The wife of Eugene Normandin is a fan of McRory’s writing and has a silly crush on him. The idea of a married woman being obsessed with a celebrity is uncomfortable, but her infatuation is merely the setup for a funny moment, then dismissed. (Parents should talk with more mature children about “affairs of the mind” in light of Matt. 5:27-30.) McRory knows absconding with temple statues is illegal. He even greases palms to stay out of trouble, then rationalizes his looting. Indeed, dishonesty, corruption and compromise are a way of life for people in this jungle nation.
Mature tigers are among God’s most arresting paradoxes. They’re vicious killers, though you’d be hard-pressed to find a more handsome, majestic and—let’s face it—cuddly creature on the planet. You want to jump the zoo wall and hug ’em, yet fight the urge because you sort of enjoy breathing. Two Brothers captures that dichotomy beautifully. On one hand, we ooh and ahh at the title characters’ often funny Jack Hannah-esque cuteness, and root like crazy for Sangha and Kumal (played onscreen by more than two dozen different animals) to meet a good end. On the other, we’re constantly aware that tigers are savage cats hardwired to rip the meat off of bones.
“If you found an abandoned tiger cub, you too would be enamored with it and would want to keep it,” says director Jean-Jacques Annaud. “You would want to take it home. However, what do you do when it becomes full grown? The tiger is a predator. No matter how much you love the animal, it is very dangerous. That’s its nature.”
The pet. The beast. Which of Sangha and Kumal’s personalities will win out at any given moment? That tension from one scene to the next holds the movie together and keeps it from feeling soft and predictable. A few scenes drag a little, but that’s a minor problem. Annaud’s story is intelligent and the photography lush. His jungle is more romantic than foreboding, which keeps the mood upbeat. And he concludes his project in a warm, satisfying way that affirms the bonds of family. On the other side of the camera, Guy Pearce leads a capable cast aware that the movie’s real stars are in stripes. He explains, “The story is told from the tigers’ point of view and they represent the ‘big picture’ that many of us have lost sight of.”
More than just a quality family film with lessons for all but the youngest ages, Two Brothers is a big-screen fix for those of us who visit the zoo just to stand in awe of the Bengal tiger, God’s breathtaking paradox.
A postscript: The cubs’ personalities change due to different treatment and life experiences. This raises the classic “nature vs. nurture” question. How much of who we are is programmed into us at birth? How much depends on our environment? If it’s true that one’s character is shaped by his or her experiences (which the film supports), families have all the more reason to monitor the entertainment shaping young lives.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Guy Pearce as Aidan McRory; Jean-Claude Dreyfus as Eugene Normandin; Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu as Mathilde Normandin; Freddie Highmore as Raoul; Oanh Nguyen as His Excellency
Jean-Jacques Annaud ( Enemy at the Gates)