Bird Watching – Lynne Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher”
We see that theme even within individual relationships, such as that of James’s parents. They seem to have a genuine affection for each other, but it exists under the weight of three children (James has two sisters), economic reality, and Dad’s tendency to drink too much and behave badly, whether cavorting with another woman at the pub and coming home late or lashing out at his wife in a moment of misplaced anger. There are moments when, despite all this, they unite in a sort of “no matter what, we’re in this together” way. In one moving scene, they literally cling together as they dance in the living room at the end of a day that should have been special, but did not quite go as planned. They take what solace they can get.
Ratcatcher doesn’t have a traditional plot, with protagonist + goal + antagonist/obstacles leading to climax and resolution. It provides a picture of James’s life, and the town and time he lives in. We get an idea of what he dreams for himself and his family. There is a sense that he wants to be a better version of himself. Significant events happen for him and his friends and family, but they don’t always move toward significant change. Beyond what we see in the film, things may get better, or they may stay the same. What we are given is powerfully acted and beautifully filmed, both spare and contemplative. I was also impressed by two particular scenes that break from the gritty reality of the rest of the film and enter something more fantastical. It takes a deft touch to combine those kinds of elements, and Ramsay does it in a way that only enhances the depth of each side. The film as a whole left me with much to think about.
Ramsay herself was born in Glasgow in 1969. Ratcatcher was her first feature length film, though she’d had three award-winning short films previously, making a name for herself as a filmmaker to watch. With this film, she won the Most Promising Newcomer award at the 2000 BAFTAs, and took many festival prizes. She’s been less than prolific since then. In 2002, her film Morvern Callar received accolades, especially for its star, Samantha Morton. Her third feature length film is We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was one of the nominees for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and seems an early contender for serious Oscar buzz, particularly for its star, Tilda Swinton.
Ramsay is also one of the few women to have had her work become a part of the Criterion Collection. Ratcatcher was released by Criterion in 2002, and that edition also contains her three acclaimed shorts. It’s well worth obtaining.