director Lynne Ramsay
Ouch this movie hurt.
Back in 2003 I was completely wow’ed by the two films by Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002) and eagerly anticipated her next film. Ratcatcher was a harrowing film about a poor child in Scotland, while Morvern Callar was a harrowing story of a woman whose boyfriend overdoses on Christmas, leaving her to go on holiday in Spain on her own. Harrowing but beautiful. Ramsay started as a photographer and her strength was deeply embedded in the visual but also the experiential, stream of consciousness of a sort, impressionistic world, psychological landscapes. Both films were incredible.
Ramsay wound up though in “development hell,” a place that filmmakers can find themselves in funding and financing their works, putting in hours, days, weeks, years into films that may never ever get produced, much less filmed and released. It took Ramsay nearly a decade to come out with a film and I was, like others upon whom she’d struck such an impression, thrilled to hear she was back with a film.
And what a subject! Adapted from a American writer Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, a novel that had had more impact outside of the U.S. than in it, despite the fact that it deals with an American family, most specifically the mother, and her demon child who becomes a spree killer. The film stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of said child, and oddly enough John C. Reilly as her husband (one of the ultimate unlikely couples ever.)
The film opens with a surreal sequence of images that starts one off thinking that we’ve got another very non-traditional narrative film going on, something visual, visceral, personal. Not to say that it is conventional. But there is more “story” to impart here perhaps than in the other films so there winds up being more scenes and sequences with dialogue and character interaction. And this is where the film goes madly, crazily wrong.
This is supposed to be a serious film about a mother who doesn’t connect with her child at birth (or anytime else). It’s a child who hates her with an unending passion. But to get these ideas across, the film takes on the feel of rather abject comedy. Scenes in which she battles wills with the little beast are far more comic than tragic. The whole thing begins to take on the feel of a Farrelly brothers film. It’s far more funny than it probably means to be.
It’s atrocious. Because of the mixed message coming across through the weirdly comic moments (i.e., as a toddler, the boy won’t roll the ball back to her, as a five year old poops his pants to make her change them and then does it again, the five year old squirts paint all over her specially decorated room). Certainly, as a parent, we’ve all had maddening moments when kids refuse to cooperate and make us feel insane. But it’s also vastly comedic. Besides, the boy has not one iota of humanity in him (though only she can see this). The point of this film is utterly lost. The whole world blames her for the murders. Why? She didn’t do it. Is he demon spawn? Is there really anything she could have done? Was it just her post-pardum coldness?
I have a friend who read the book and said that it was intense and unsettling. The movie is nearly laugh-out-loud ridiculous and nonsensical.
I’ve read that Ramsay has some other interesting projects on the stove. I hope it doesn’t take her 10 years to realize them. I also hope that it doesn’t turn out to be one of the most ludicrous movies that I’ve seen in years.