Welcome to Land of The Nerds, where I, Douglas Laman, use my love of cinema to explore, review and talk about every genre of film imaginable!
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Lynne Ramsay Kicked Off Her Directorial Career In A Masterful Fashion With Ratcatcher
As this opening scene depicting James finding a deadly route to escaping his dreary day-to-day life indicates, Ratcatcher, much like future Lynne Ramsay directorial efforts We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here, is extremely concerned with depicting what kind of daily psychological turmoil its protagonist is enduring in response to a traumatic event. Whereas in those two other Ramsay films the traumatic event has already occurred prior to the film starting, we actually get to see what sort of horrors alter the mindset of James a few minutes into Ratcatcher after James' friend Ryan drowns. Though he's not connected to this death by any of his neighbors, James carries immense unspoken guilt over his responsibility in the demise of Ryan.
James grapples with this guilt while dealing with a toxic home-life that sees him living with a bunch of siblings as well as parents Ma (Mandy Matthews) and Pa (Tommy Flanagan) in a house located in a Glasgow neighborhood during a trash strike that has left their already delipidated home surrounded by trash. Needless to say, the living conditions around here are far from ideal and many of the nearby residents, including a gang of teenage hooligans and James' abusive Pa, are similarly dangerous. It's an emotionally brutal story that Glasgow native Lynne Ramsay writes and directs in an introspective manner that makes the misery of James so outstandingly palpable on both a physical and mental level.
On a physical level, the way the neighborhood James grows up in is filmed is fascinating, rarely does the camera just focus exclusively on lingering on piles of trash or toxic bodies of water residing in this neighborhood. Though the impact of those elements is still felt by the characters, the camera and script instead squarely focus on the characters inhabiting this uniquely run-down environment. This works as a subtle but effective way to reinforce how James, his family and neighbors have all had to learn to live in these conditions as well as an approach that places a greater emphasis on the traumatic human interactions James and other people he knows (like aspiring zookeeper Kenny or hauntingly tormented teenager Margaret Anne) are constantly enduring.
Placing a visual emphasis squarely on that part of the story results in plenty of sequences that could serve as a perfect textbook definition of harrowing. Interestingly, it's worth noting that Ratcatcher deviates from the two most recent Lynne Ramsay masterpieces in depicting recurring explicit contrasts to misery, a unique deviation that fits this particular story nicely. A dialogue-free scene depicting James finding solace in an empty but exquisite house in the countryside is a beautiful examination of this kid finding some peace from both his troubled home life and the pervasive guilt he feels over the death of Ryan. It's a phenomenal example of how well Ramsay manages to get inside her characters' heads through purely visual means, not a word needs to be spoken for the viewer to understand why this specific place is so special to James and why.
Another less overtly somber dialogue-free sequence depicts Kenny's mouse tied to a balloon flying off to a mouse-infested moon, all while Danny Elfman-music plays in the background. It's a segment of the story that immediately conjures up the word "whimsical", a term I never thought I'd apply to a sequence in a Lynne Ramsay film! Of course, such deviations from the otherwise grim tone of Ratcatcher are usually used as a way to build up to later moments of tragedy. A moment where James informs Kenny that his rat is dead rather than traveling to the moon is a quintessential example of how moments of tranquility usually exist just to set up tragedy in the realm of Ratcatcher. The death of this mouse occurs off-screen, just one example of how most of the turmoil in Ratcatcher occurs off-screen or is obscured in some manner (another trademark of Ramsay's filmmaking).
This makes the horrors the characters witness or experiences all the more powerful, most notably in a scene depicting Pa getting beat up by some local hooligans that never shows even a single fist punch Pa but does cut away just before he gets beaten up to a small river of raspberry flavoring trickling down vanilla ice cream. This chilling visual meant to symbolize the bloody carnage Pa experiences is brilliantly executed in terms of how it's shot (the camera being a great deal of distance away from Pa before he gets violently assaulted is a great touch) and edited. You could go through every scene in Ratcatcher and find so many examples similar to this sequence that demonstrate a remarkable level of intricate craftsmanship.
Lynne Ramsay and the cast & crew of Ratcatcher create a cinematic portrayal of internal anguish, that, much like 21st-century-movies Lynne Ramsay would later direct, manages to be so powerful because of how it smartly keeps much of the actual anguish off-screen. Combining that trait with how Ratcatcher knows when to eschew dialogue makes it a haunting piece of work. Heck, the staggeringly impressive final scene (which, like the aforementioned scene with Pa getting beat up, makes great use of masterful editing) that juxtaposes James' heartbreaking fantasies with his bleak reality alone would have made this a remarkable accomplishment. To think, that ending is just one of the many harrowing cinematic depictions of internal suffering to be found in Lynne Ramsay's first masterwork, Ratcatcher.
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