Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar

2002, NR, 97 min. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell, Dan Cadan, Carolyn Calder, Jim Wilson.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 21, 2003

Not enough people know about Samantha Morton, but then why would they? Rolling Stone doesn’t put her on the cover; E!’s Rank has never enumerated her gifts. Morton has made but a handful of films – she was the precog Agatha in Minority Report, the sweet to Sean Penn’s lowdown in Woody Allen’s faux jazzman biopic, a junkie in love in the devastating Jesus’ Son – and Morton walked away with each of those pictures in her pocket. Not many people know who she is, but those who do would pay good money to watch her watch paint dry … which isn’t a bad way of describing Morvern Callar. It sounds like a dig, but it isn’t; it’s simply that Morvern Callar moves so slowly, so faintly, that one might wonder if it was moving at all. But, if I may belabor the point, watching paint dry is a lot more than it’s cracked up to be: The colors change as they settle, dried drips and missed patches produce complexity. So it goes for Morvern Callar, Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s follow-up to her brutal debut, Ratcatcher. Her latest begins with a dead body, the still-fresh suicide of Morvern’s live-in boyfriend. Understandably shaken, Morvern (Morton) runs through the gamut of emotions, conveyed – quite boldly – in her motions. (The film is minutes in before a line of dialogue is uttered.) Morvern holds him, falls asleep clinging to him, later steps around him, even filches cash from him so she can get blotto with her best friend Lanna (McDermott) and forget about his rapidly decomposing body for the night. The body stays put for a while, and then it goes away, in a gruesome sort of way that still manages to not elicit the audience’s disgust in our protagonist – a feat made even more remarkable when Morvern steals her boyfriend’s novel and passes it off as her own. Not exactly the classiest manifestation of mourning, but hey, a girl’s got to survive. Morton is powerful lovely here, her usual vulnerability emboldened by the bravado of a survivor; just watch the encounter, between her and a stranger in a Spanish hotel, that begins with teary, mutual grief then mutates into bouncing-on-the-bed rowdiness and finally a violent, defiant affirmation of life, of living bodies. While Morton – so consistently good – is no longer a revelation, per se, first-time actress McDermott is: Her Lanna is a whiny, boozy blast. The faces and bodies of these two women are exquisitely expressive, which is a must because Ramsay’s script is largely wordless, her direction sometimes inscrutable. Dissenters brand her arty and pretentious: occasionally, yes, and I admit a recurring visual motif of wriggling worms gives me the willies … not quite the profound impact I suspect the filmmaker was aiming for. But so what? Ramsay is experimental, unconventional, and forever reaching at the gorgeousness in grief and despair. Her film moves slow as molasses, slow as paint drying – and all the better to see the colors and the complexities.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Lynne Ramsay Films
You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay renew the revenger's tragedy.

Richard Whittaker, April 13, 2018

We Need To Talk About Kevin
Tilda Swinton stars as the mother of a teen rampage killer who has a complicated relationship with her son.

Marc Savlov, Feb. 3, 2012

More by Kimberley Jones
Review: <I>A Discovery of Witches</i>
Review: A Discovery of Witches
Miniseries shakes Twilight's shadow for a more feminist fantasy

Jan. 16, 2019

AFS Spotlights the Early Work of <I>Support the Girls</I> Director Andrew Bujalski
AFS Spotlights the Early Work of Support the Girls Director Andrew Bujalski
Three from the heart

Jan. 4, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay, Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell, Dan Cadan, Carolyn Calder, Jim Wilson

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle