More Ramsey goodness for you who fell in love with Kevin
So I fell in love with We Need to Talk about Kevin. Who didn’t? I blogged about it. I talked about it in a podcast. I’ve dropped comments all over the blogosphere, bonding with everyone else in the fan club.
I was so much in love that I felt the urge to check up on the artistic mother of Kevin, the director Lynne Ramsay. Was this a one-time-only miracle of a movie? Or was there more to it? I decided to have a go with her debut feature film from 1999, Ratcatcher and I won’t keep you on hold for my verdict. I loved it.
The kinship with Kevin
On the surface the two movies picture two very different worlds. Kevin lives in a nice area in the present US in a well-off family. James in Ratcatcher lives in a poor area of Glasgow in 1973, where the streets are flooded with trash and the accompanying rats since the garbage collectors are on strike.
But there are also similarities. Both movies gravitate towards darkness and misery with only glimpses of hope and joy. Both movies have elements of death and guilt. (Ratcatcher starts with a scene where James is playing with a friend in a creek. The play gets out of hands and the other boy drowns. It’s an accident, but James blames it on himself.)
And both movies circle around a numb and almost mute person. We get to see the world through their eyes, a very subjective perspective, and there are times when you can’t be entirely sure if what you see actually is what happened or if it’s a product of their imagination.
There is definitely a kinship between We Need to Talk about Kevin and Ratcatcher. There’s something about the way that Ramsay tells a story, through imagery and atmosphere more than through conversation and action. Showing, not telling.
But Ratcatcher is more than the story about a boy brooding over a drowning incident. It’s also a coming-of-age story.
[MILD SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED IF YOU’RE VERY SPOILER SENSITIVE.]
In the midst of all the misery, where bullying, alcoholism and abuse is a part of the everyday life, there are also a few scenes convey glimpses of hope and even joy. The sunrays breaking through the dense cloud cover. For instance I’ll never forget the sight of James escaping the city to a field in the countryside where he’s jumping around like a cow who’s been let out in the pasture after a long winter. It was as heartbreakingly beautiful as any of Terrence Malick’s field pictures.
However as time passes James’ hopes seem to fade away. There’s a girl in the area who has been bullied and sexually abused, and he wants to help her but finds himself unable to do so. Previously he had let a younger boy believe that he by tying a rat to a balloon had sent it to the moon, providing him with a new and better life. Now he bluntly tells the boy that he killed the rat by this act.
When the illusions shatter you know it’s time to become an adult. Does he want to? Is he able to? What is his life going to look like?
There is no clear answer and the ending of the film is truly ambiguous. Certain things happen and they could either be seen as real events or as fantasies, hallucinations or a symbolic illustration of what’s going on inside him.
I tossed up a question in the Filmspotting forum to see what other people who have watched the film made of it. Judging from the answers we’re all over the scale from truly black and depressing to a happy end. And me? I’m somewhere in between. Everything isn’t perfect, but it’s not as bad as it might look either. [END OF SPOILERS]
In the end I loved We Need to Talk about Kevin a little bit more than I loved Ratcatcher. It might have to do with identification; I probably have a lot more in common with a middle-aged teenage mother than a 12 year old boy in a slum area in Glasgow.
Nevertheless I’m happy to recommend it to anyone who fell in love with Kevin. Just be prepared for that it’s more of a kitchen sink realism movie than something that borders to horror.
One thing is certain: I’ll keep an eye on whatever Lynne Ramsay comes up with next.
Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, UK, 1999) My rating: 4,5/5