“I do believe that most anything can happen to a man in his own mind.”
Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) goes home to his family’s castle after the death of his brother. Upon arrival, Larry quickly catches the eye of a local saleswoman, whom Larry spies through his father’s telescope. Though Gwen (Evelyn Ankers) is engaged, Larry will not give up so easily. In pursuit of her, he accompanies Gwen and her friend, Jenny (Fay Helm) to see some traveling fortune tellers. Through their predictions, Larry becomes a wolf-man, whose hunting can only be stopped by force.
You know how it is when you are just trying to spend time with a girl you like and then a gypsy turns into a wolf and bites you and then you start turning into a wolf too. Then you tell a few people about it and everyone starts telling you to go to an asylum because you have clearly become unhinged, even though you know for sure that you are turning into a wolf and are afraid because of the transformation but also freaked out that no one believes you.
You don’t know? I guess it’s not as common as I thought.
After a surreal encounter with traveling gypsies, Larry beats a wolf that tries to attack him; later, people in town reveal that the gypsy, Bela (Bela Lugosi) is actually dead and that no wolf was found near the scene. With increasing anxiety, Larry visits Bela’s mother, Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), who gravely informs Larry that he will also become a wolf. Soon after, Larry transforms into a wolf, whose victims’ fate can be predicted if the sign of the werewolf – a pentagram – appears in their hand.
If Larry is indeed a lunatic – but in the mentally ill sense, not the wolf-creature sense – then paranoid schizophrenia is a viable explanation.
- Persistent, Unusual Thoughts or Beliefs
Larry believes he is turning into a wolf. Larry claims to be ignorant of lycanthropy or wolf folklore upon arrival at Talbot Castle (I just want to emphasize that he has A CASTLE). However, The Wolf Man begins with a page open to a book that briefly explains lycanthropy and alleges that Talbot Castle is a place known to be inhabited by these half-human monsters. Perhaps this is just a film explanation to viewers, but perhaps Larry had the book and was reading this before his excursion to the castle. Thus, it is possible that the seed of thoughts about werewolves was planted before Larry even arrived.
- Difficulty Thinking Clearly
If our main character, Larry, is a paranoid schizophrenic, then he is one of those classic unreliable narrators. It is possible that certain events or stories are not merely coincidence, but imagined by Larry or play into his delusion that he turns into a wolf.
Here we have a man that has allegedly read about werewolves before visiting; he describes Gwen’s earrings as “shaped like the moon,” and he purchases a cane that has a werewolf-head topper. These all might be bizarre coincidence, or they may be ways for Larry to suggest that he is already obsessed with werewolves before the story starts. Bear in mind (wolf in mind?) that this is also a man who will not take no for an answer from Gwen, a decidedly wolfish characteristic. It is no coincidence that women sometimes refer to such persistent males as “dogs,” (among other colorful names, I might add).
Larry’s behavior may seem unusual or coincidental, which asserts that he is not thinking clearly regarding what he has read and what is real. He wakes up after attacking locals with reports that people in town have been murdered by wolves, but here is where Larry falters: He looks guilty. He knows what happened, remembers it well, but attributes his murderous temperament to turning into a wolf. It may also be worth noting that we, the viewers, are the only ones that see Larry turn into a wolf until the end of the movie, when his delusions have consumed him.
- Withdrawing from Family or Friends
As the film begins, Larry comes to Talbot Castle to see his father, John (Claude Rains). The men exchange pleasantries before Larry apologizes about the news of his recently-deceased brother. It is at this point that Sir John remarks how sad it is that Larry finally came to visit, but only under such grim circumstances.
Larry and his father get along well, so the idea here is that Larry has recently withdrawn from his family. This is also a good time to examine that we do not know anything about Larry until he arrives at the castle. Coincidence or not, it is on his arrival that all this wolfish trouble commences.
Personally, I do not believe in coincidence.