Erik Jaccard caps off his stellar year of 10YA re-views with another look at the adaptation of an Alan Warner novel he’s read four times over. Prepare thyself for ruminations on club culture, issues of nationality, and the Scotland that Jaccard knows so very, very well.

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Unless you follow contemporary Scottish writing or are a serious indie film connoisseur, you may not have heard of Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay’s 2002 adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1995 novel of the same name. Warner, a Scottish novelist who rose to prominence in the 1990s on the same wave of counter-culture indie buzz as fellow Scotsman Irvine Welsh[1], is in many ways tied to that particular era in British political and literary history. This heady moment, which for some would culminate politically in the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999, offered a new generation of writers and readers an opportunity to revisit the cultural politics of nationhood in the United Kingdom. Warner’s fiction, while not as aggressively independent as that of his forbears James Kelman and Alasdair Gray, nonetheless partakes of a certain concerted, collective intellectual effort to establish fault lines in and around Scottish writing (and particularly as regards its relation to more established literary formations such as the ‘British Novel’). As such, its story remains grounded in and by that attempt to stake a claim to specifically Scottish experience. At the same time, like any great novel, Morvern Callar cannot be reduced to debates surrounding the cultural politics of Scottish identity or UK-wide issues of political sovereignty. It is, of its own merit, also a compelling story about a young woman’s personal transformation that derives its energy from a combination of concerns peculiar to Warner and his generation.

In re-viewing the film ten years on, the first thing that occurred to me is that part of the reason it still seems interesting and relevant today is that Ramsay does not belabor the context outlined above, which would surely have tied it all the more concretely to that particular historical moment. Instead, Ramsay’s Morvern Callar is much more interesting as an example of independent filmmaking than it is as a translation of Scottish literature to the screen (a conclusion that might work the other way round if we were talking about Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting).[2] Indeed, much of what is Scottish about the novel has, in this version of the narrative, been excised to the degree that whether much of its action takes place in a port town on the West Coast of Scotland seems incidental to the quiet drama that plays out within those coordinates. This is perhaps where the film triumphs most, in knowing what it can do best with its source material (that is, produce a quiet drama). And despite the fact that I work with Scottish literature and culture, and would certainly have appreciated an adaptation that took the full social, cultural, and political context into consideration, I think I’m ok with this. Well, I am and I’m not, and the reasons I both am and am not satisfied have much to do with the dual positions I occupy as a writer.

On the one hand, as a reviewer for Ten Years Ago, I’m concerned with evaluating how films and our perceptions of them change over time. Under the aegis of this persona I find myself more impressed with Ramsay’s ability to distill the larger mess of contexts and issues in the novel down to a point at which her main goal becomes telling a story about an interesting character. We can think about this by reading through the brief plot synopsis on the film’s Wikipedia page:

Morvern Callar is a young woman in a small port town in Scotland. She wakes on Christmas morning to discover that her boyfriend has committed suicide, leaving the manuscript of his unpublished novel behind. She erases his name, puts her own name on the novel, and goes to Almeria, Costa del Sol, where she sells it to a publisher as her own work. 

As a précis, this works just fine. It’s utterly descriptive and doesn’t really tell us anything about what goes on beneath or between its catalogue of general descriptions. But it also boils things down in the same way that Ramsay does. This description, like the film, deals primarily with Morvern as a character and with the things that motivate her, relegating to the backburner the spaces and larger forces against which those motivations play out.  As such, the film’s most successful achievement is in the way it offers a brief meditation on trauma and personal transformation in a format and style that lends credence to the various eccentricities of Warner’s story (many of which I deal with below).

On the other hand, as a scholar of Scottish literature, I’m concerned with understanding how the story that we’re told is informed by, and informs, the larger currents of thought that comprise that particular field of research. And while I appreciate the quirkiness of Morvern Callar, both as a narrative and a character, I worry that in bracketing off the larger Scottish, British, and even global contexts in the process of focusing on Morvern’s actions, the film in many ways deprives us of the ability to understand them fully.  Both of these perspectives will surely inform my analysis in the re-view to follow, but since my job here is to act as Ten Years Ago reviewer, I would say that that film measures up just as well now as it did in 2002.[3] Here are some categorized thoughts on why that is.

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A Tale of Two ‘Morverns’

One of the most obvious challenges of adapting Morvern Callar for the screen has to be the act of translating an exceptionally strange and eccentric character in such a way as to make her behavior, which gets a fuller treatment in the novel, seem natural and organic to the development of the narrative. Among these eccentricities, it is perhaps her laconic nature—that sometimes borders on mute—that is most immediately noticeable. Warner’s Morvern says little, and what she does say tends to be very functional, as though it were the bare minimum required to pass muster in her social settings. There are a number of reasons for this and one could point to, among other things, the way she had been silenced by her boyfriend (who is referred to throughout only as Him—notice the capitalized personal pronoun), the fact that she is traumatized by his death to the point of being ‘reset’ to zero in a way that robs her of the specificity of language beget by experience, or the simple fact that she has received little schooling and is simply diffident, saying less because she does not feel comfortable saying more.

However, the strangeness/uniqueness of Morvern’s language has less to do with a quantitative assessment of how many words she says and more to do with a very qualitative idea of what she says and why. Rather than articulating an independent, unique voice (as we traditionally think of voice as an extension of personality and self), Morvern works in generalities and abstractions. When her boyfriend dies, she tells us essentially that she feels feelings, but deigns to name them. People are given sobriquets rather than names (outside of a few select folk), and places beyond her hometown of The Port are ‘other countries,’ etc. In working through this catalogue of abstractions, Morvern shapes a distinctly descriptive and superficial tone.  Though things happen, it is often exceedingly difficult to figure out what they’re supposed to mean, primarily because we lack the fuller individual perspective to which we are accustomed, and through which we generally interpret narrative events.

But because she seems to lack an appropriately affective register in response to her life, not to mention the macabre and horrible death of her boyfriend, she can come off as emotionally void an inhuman.[4] What emerges, then, is a person with a voice, but a strangely evacuated one. As a person with an identity in this particular place at this particular time, ‘Morvern Callar’ has a meaning, but it’s a meaning that only emerges in conjunction with the contexts around her. Without getting too philosophical, I’d say that the character Morvern Callar exists in two different domains, one a specific and specified being (known/reproduced to/by her foster father, her friends, her community, etc) and the other a very abstract, formless idea of being itself. There are, then, two Morverns, one a seemingly fixed identity and one a much more nebulous one, and one of the novel’s main sources of momentum traces the breakdown of the former and the exploration of the possibilities of the latter (and this is a very useful frame with which to read my discussion of rave culture below).

It is a testament to both Ramsay’s direction and a perfectly cast Samantha Morton that this nebulous construction manages to find its way onto celluloid without dying from overdetermination. Ramsay and Morton build their own version of this duality out of Warner’s source material, but also against it. Working in a visual medium and without the voiceover effect that would give us Morvern’s thoughts, both director and actor are therefore pressed to create their own version of Morvern. And the translation that emerges is, in its own way, hauntingly beautiful. Because so much of the film’s dialogue is shaped by Morvern’s silence, what we are instead left to piece together is how one would look and behave were they going through what Morvern is going through. Instead of telling us how she feels about being His girlfriend, or Lanna’s friend, or Red Hanna’s foster daughter, or a wage slave at the local supermarket, or a young Scottish woman, we only see her reactions to the possibility of no longer playing these roles in the wake of His death. Befitting the medium, then, much more significance is attached to what is seen and done than to what is spoken or heard. As viewers, we only come to understand Morvern as a character by observing her interest in minute details, in ritual habits, and in other people. We come to know her by watching her face as she registers the various emotions we know she must be experiencing, but which she cannot, or will not, share. That the film still manages to produce these emotions for us, and to therefore understand how Morvern’s self is transforming and reshaping its own contours before our eyes, is one its major triumphs and one that plays just as well today as it did ten years ago.

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Angels in Caledonia

Of the many challenges of adapting Warner’s novel to the screen, one of the most intractable is what to do with the novel’s explicit engagement with issues of national, regional, and class identity. In the novel these issues unfold organically from within a larger narrative of life in The Port, but in the film they seem oddly disconnected and scattered. I say this with the knowledge that, in reducing most of what happens in the novel to a story about Morvern, her dead boyfriend, and his novel, Ramsay certainly isolates what makes the narrative turn, so to speak, what gives it action. This is a good thing as far as the story itself is concerned. But the film also works in confusing relation to its location and the cultural milieu which is meant to lend contour and detail to the action unfolding therein.

For example, the film works quite hard to distance itself from issues of nationality and Scottishness (which Morvern constantly points to in her narration in the novel), yet Warner’s novel, the plot arc that it demands, and the characters it introduces, makes this imperative difficult  to maintain. You can see this disconnect in action when you consider certain casting choices. Rather than finding an actress with a more generic bearing, Ramsay found fit to cast Kathleen McDermott, a native born Glaswegian, to play Lanna. For those who don’t know much about Scotland, I’d say this: if you have a stereotypical idea of a Scots accent, chances are it’s some form of lowland Scots, and most likely some form of Glaswegian. Where Samantha Morton’s Midlands accent allows Morvern to take on a form of abstract Britishness in keeping with the intended decontextualization of the character, McDermott’s Lanna confusingly renaturalizes the Scots frame of reference. Secondly, and building on this, the film is not entirely certain of what it wants to say about Morvern’s connection to her home community.[5] In the novel this connection is established through Morvern’s interactions with Lanna’s grandmother, Couris Jean. In the film, Couris Jean is certainly there, and we see Morvern paying her an unexplained visit, but we don’t have a context for understanding how Morvern views Couris Jean (as a matriarchal link to her own history, not to mention her distrust of language) and, therefore, for why she is given as prominent a role in the first half of the film.

As with the film’s Scottishness, its treatment of class is never fully explored and only ever plays distracting second fiddle to the main plot movement. The notion that He gave her His novel partly because it would grant ‘her’ an opportunity denied her by people like Him (included in his suicide note in the novel) is excised here, stripping Morvern of the class identity that otherwise at least partly motivates her decision to expropriate the novel’s earning potential. Likewise, though Ramsay does see fit to include a mesmerizing scene characterizing the ironic emptiness and shinycleanspotlessnew veneer of the Morvern’s workplace, little is done with Morvern’s role as a pawn in the larger neoliberal narrative eating away at traditional (lowland) working-class social formations. This may be beside the point—after all, there is really only so much the film can reasonably hope to achieve. I make an issue of it here because it is, as I state above, indicative both of the film’s success and its failure.

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New Sensation, New Sensation, yeah.

I’ve read Morvern Callar four times now, and over the course of those four experiences I feel like I’ve come to a more complex and nuanced understanding of Morvern as a character. However, my first time through she exasperated me. I couldn’t figure out why I was constantly subjected to descriptions of her lighting cigarettes, playing music, touching the ground, swimming, and experiencing all manner of other sensations too numerous to mention. It was only upon teaching the novel in a class that I came to more closely examine the role sensation plays in the story, and to understand how vital a part it plays in the formation of Morvern’s sense of self.

The first shot we get of Morvern is her lying on the floor next to the corpse of her dead boyfriend. What Morvern perceives is the same thing we see: body on the floor, Christmas lights flashing at intervals, a human soul so shocked as to be entirely void. She explores his body as though feeling it for the first time, as though she is learning a new word and a new concept: human body. Frankly, though it’s hideous and macabre, I could watch Morvern touch His corpse for fifteen minutes and not get bored. When I watch this opening scene all I can see is her translating the abstract concept of death—literalized in the cold human being on the floor with her—into a sensation, as though, in order to get around the experience of it, she needs to ask herself what death feels like to the touch. Just as she later begins to bloom through an engagement with the world based largely on sense and sensation, here she manages to grieve in a very tactile way. She feels his death and—or perhaps in—his person, just not in a mundane physical or reductively emotional sense. Rather, what we can grasp from watching her experience this strange conflation is an idea of those two things collapsing together under the aegis of ‘feeling.’ But this is different from what we’re used to in that it seems to trace a fault line between feeling derived from received interpretations, and feeling arising from immediate experience.

This realization has significant consequences for how we interpret Morvern’s behavior, but also for how we read her identity. Most of her ritualized behavior, both in the novel and film, can be read in one of two ways. On the one hand, we can read Morvern’s obsessive behavior as indicative of a category we already use to understand human actions. In this sense it’s easy to indict her for her seemingly meaningless obsession with commodities, appearance, and leisure. It’s also too easy to look at her sexual behavior and level judgments. At times, she definitely does seem like a stereotype of a vapid teenage girl, a little insecure, a little vain, a little obsessed with herself. On the other hand, what seems to motivate Morvern’s compulsions are the sensations they produce, not the meanings they collect. What I mean  by this is that whether she’s painting her toenails for the umpteenth time, participating in group sex, running through a meadow, or taking a bath with Lanna, she does these things in much the same way that she runs her hands over her dead boyfriend’s body. They are pleasurable and new and call to mind fresh images and abstractions that she is in the process of narrowing and refining: bodywatersextoecigarette. In the novel these things and the actions that give them shape come curiously loose from the contexts in which we’re used to seeing them. In the film, however, this is a harder feat to pull off, and Morvern’s habitual behavior looks more like, well, habitual behavior. Given that the central determining force behind the plot seems to be His death, they inevitably fall under her response to this when we come to interpret them (as though she were performing the actions as a way to evade or escape dealing with Him).

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Let the beat drop

It would be easy to think of Warner’s evocation of the British club scene as one of the more dated aspects of his narrative, much in the same way that Irvine Welsh’s mid-‘90s exaltations of the rave scene’s progressive, counter-cultural potential now seem merely nostalgic, if not downright naïve.  Like any other ‘scene’ or subculture, the rave scene has, in our own millennial frame of reference, turned into a large-scale, commercialized parody of itself. These days, giant warehouse parties, and the various forms of electronic music used to soundtrack them, are part and parcel of the officially sanctioned norm, rather than a subversive affront to the social and cultural status quo. Whereas ‘Partying’ of this variety once seemed to open onto new, progressive ways of thinking about social and political formations, gender, sexuality, and fashion, ‘raving’ has, in some ways, now become just another way of whiling away a hedonistic, debauched weekend.[6]

But in the mid-‘90s, the tendency among certain writers, artists, and cultural commentators was to consider what kinds of opportunities such a sub/counter culture offered for challenging and reconceiving received notions of social and cultural politics (this would dovetail with explorations of progressive models of nationality in the work of writers like Welsh). In particular, as a sort of revival of the ‘free love’ ethos of the 1960s, couched in a collective experience and structured by mutual adoration of music—and the intersubjective intimacies of designer drugs—rave culture was supposed to provide a way of thinking around traditional social and cultural divisions. Anyone could go to a rave and suddenly shed the subjectifying designations (nationality, race, class, sexuality, gender, etc) that prove problematic as identity markers in the “real world.”  Stockbrokers could mingle with unemployed steel workers, second generation Caribbean immigrants with ‘native’ Britons, straight men with gay women (or men) and, well, you get the point. The oneness of it—and of the experience of being on ecstasy—supposedly threw everything into flux, allowing for radically new trans-formations to emerge. Ideally, one could come to know themselves in startlingly new ways precisely because they could lose themselves in this homogenous mass of previously differentiated people. Therefore, the whole process was/is both experiential/sensual and functional, creating a means of clearing one’s self away for a brief while and prompting the reexamination of how and why one would reorganize that self-conception.

Unfortunately, as history has demonstrated, raving also worked really well within the traditional confines of the leisured ‘weekend,’ providing an alternative/second option to the average Friday night routine (that usually goes Pub-Club-Party, in my experience of Britain, anyway). This version of raving—or substance use, perhaps—seems to close off the transformation potential of its original source by placing the very individualized experience of getting as fucked up as possible at the top of the average clubber’s list of priorities. The difference, I suppose, is that in this second arrangement the experience functions mostly as an escape from the real world, not as an engagement with it. The scene becomes about buying a ‘fantasy’ experience that can be used as a means to drop out for a few hours rather than any kind of purposeful attempt to envision new ways of thinking about oneself. Because of this, there has always been a pronounced tension between the so-called ‘progressive’ aspects of club culture and its more orthodox flipside.

For her part, Ramsay’s take on club culture—at least as a function of Morvern’s experience with the world—encapsulates this tension deftly. Both in the film and the novel, Morvern’s experience with clubbing falls under the designation I make above of her re-experiencing the world around her and what it has to offer. As with the other various forms of sensation and experience to which she is exposed, Morvern’s interaction with clubbing is a form of rediscovery and engagement with experience and the world at large. Just as she continues to ritually paint and repaint her toenails, or light cigarette after cigarette, there is something in the complex of activities associated with clubbing that is satisfying as a form of ritual sensation and pleasure. The most important thing, though, is that for Morvern, pleasure is a means to a kind of freedom she has not thus far enjoyed. It is explicitly not an end in itself, not the hedonistic free-for-all celebration of pleasure it seems to be for the dazed holiday partiers around her.

Much of what Ramsay does with the Spanish club scenes (and ‘Scene’) is designed to explicitly demarcate these two conceptions of ‘pleasure.’ In particular, I’m thinking of two moments in the film which could easily stand alone as separate aspects of Morvern and Lanna’s holiday, but which are tied together through the use of what is essentially an extra/character with no speaking role. In the first, we see the girls approach the pool at their resort complex, where a supposedly titillating game is being organized by the hotel staff. The game involves one boy and one girl getting into a giant sack in front of a cheering crowd and then, amidst the uproar, exchanging bathing suits, each popping out at the end in a clownish display of gender confusion (Look! It’s a bloke wearing a bikini top! And over there! Boobies!). The girl in question, a youngish brunette, seems confused, scared, and uncertain when she is finally pulled from the sack wearing nothing but men’s swim trunks. What is meant to be some kind of freeing and sexually liberating experience becomes instead a spectacle of shame, wherein her gender (and the limitations placed on it by the world of which she is a part) is highlighted rather than deemphasized.  Later, we see Morvern and Lanna in a club bathroom, where the same girl provides casual background to an utterly ordinary club conversation between Lanna and two English guys. Plastered to a wall in the background and drug-fucked into infinity, the girl can barely open her eyes, let alone form coherent words. And it’s no accident that Ramsay lets the camera wander over to this girl’s face twice in the space of ten minutes.  Just like the poolside scenario, the club scene is supposed to be an embodiment of pure pleasure and of losing oneself in the larger experience. Instead, what we see is a brutal and sad embodiment of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, a form of dissipation and defeat that evades the world rather than prompting conscious participation in it.

But the pleasure of the rave scene works differently for Morvern. In the novel we see this dichotomy more through her own ruminations on the things she sees and the people she meets (and often, simply in the things she describes and the way she describes them—as I mention above, she is sparing with her judgments). But in choosing to forego voice-over narration (which would have sounded odd, I think), Ramsay is forced to find other ways to produce this difference, which she does by emphasizing the contrast between Morvern and Lanna, whose designs are purely about having a laugh, doing whatever comes next, and generally forgetting her world back home. Which is ironic, because it seems that most of what happens as a function of the Spanish club scene is just like what happens back at home. Even the hotels these kids stay in look like gray, charmless British council flats.  In fact, among a number of the film’s purposeful parallelisms, one of the clearer and most effective ones is the natural juxtaposition formed between Morvern and Lanna’s wild party in The Port just after He has died and their holiday experience in Spain. We are clearly meant to contrast the two and to examine what about them seems similar (a lot) and what, if anything is different. The only difference, as far as setting and typical action is concerned, is geographical location (Morvern, on the other hand, has developed in the interim). All the rest seems to resound with the empty echo of a global party circuit, a kind of sameness in difference that we know the global capitalist monoculture to be so adept at (re)producing.

Late in the film, Lanna admonishes Morvern for daring to consider that this sterile monoculture could be anything but, reminding her that “it’s just the same crap as everywhere, so stop dreaming.”  To dream, for Lanna, is to think that life could be anything other than the routine rehearsal of mundane events to which she is accustomed. This includes the quotidian pace of life in The Port, but also the daily drudgery she experiences as a supermarket employee who left school at sixteen and has no imaginable prospects for the future. In this sense, there is nothing ambiguous about the club scene—for Lanna, it’s just another type of party meant to pass the time. But for Morvern, whose decisions turn on a decidedly different logic, it offers options, not foreclosures. I would suggest that this is why Ramsay has her wear her headphones on the dance floor in both club scenes. On the one hand, anyone who’s been to a club knows there’s no way in hell you could actually hear music playing on headphones while in the middle of a dance floor.  Yet, they (and the music that nonetheless plays in them, as we hear in the film’s final scene), seem designed to grant her a certain individual control over how and why she engages with what is going on around her.[7]

For my part at least, I think the way Ramsay handles the club scenes is excellent. Rather than trying to consciously date the scene by soundtracking it with music then in vogue, she focuses on Morvern’s ephemeral experience of the dance floor, on the way that bodies appear and disappear in the flashing strobe lights, and on the way she experiences the simultaneous and dialectical loss and discovery of self. The club Scene, then, is not the focus of these particular filmic scenes, which is great, as we don’t need—nor does Ramsay seem to want to give us—yet another watered down historical picture of that era. It exists here primarily as a means of understanding Morvern.

Right, this will be my last re-view for 10 Year Ago in this fine Year of Our Lord, 2012. It’s been a long and productive year for me here and I would extend my thanks to anyone who’s taken the time to read through my (usually) long-winded thoughts. Here’s wishing everyone a fine November and December. See you in 2013.

Addenda and other assorted thoughts

  • I have to admit to being torn on the casting of Samantha Morton to play the story’s titular character. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. What Morton is able to do with her facial expressions alone, not to mention the way she embodies Morvern’s more ethereal qualities, can justify her inclusion in the film. She’s also the only thing that lends the film any ‘star power,’ if you want to call it that (she had already received one Oscar nod for her supporting role in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown), and one knows that in order to get film’s financed and distributed, one must often have a recognizable, salable actor. But in casting Morton, Ramsay is forced to shunt much of the regional and national connotations that Warner includes in the novel (her Scottishness in relation to Greater Britain and her regional West Coast identity in relation to lowland Scotland) onto her surrounding cast, particularly Lanna (played by native Glaswegian Kathleen McDermott). This deflection of Morvern’s rootedness in her home, its geography and its culture is even directly referenced at one point, as she clearly makes fun of McDermott’s very Glaswegian phrase, “Pure Dead Brilliant.’ In this moment both of the actresses seem out of place, despite the fact that they’ve done so many other fantastic things with the characters. It’s not that casting Morton, who hails from the English Midlands and makes no attempt to disguise her accent, is a bad choice. I just think that it was one of the choices that resulted in yet another layer of the narrative’s Scottishness being stripped away. Again, in terms of marketing the film as an internationally accessible product, this all makes sense, but for someone who studies all things Scottish, I found just slightly disappointing.
  • Though this has less to do with the film version of this particular narrative, I want to point something out. Long before that Meyer woman was including soundtrack supplements to her novels about teenage love and sparkly vampires, Warner had already broken that ground, embedding a soundtrack within the novel itself in the form of mix-tape track listings that are broken off and indented within the text. In the film we get less of this, though much of what appears in the novel also appears on the film’s soundtrack.  In any case, as I mention above, Morvern’s story is patterned in and around music in many ways. It’s both one of the few anchors she has to the physical world, an escape from it, and an expression of the degree to which culture and commodity have saturated her life.
  • Morvern’s relationship with Him, which remains opaque in the novel, seems less so here, where we can see her wearing His engagement ring. Or, at least, a ring on that finger and one that looks awfully like an engagement ring. I’m not sure if this changes anything, but I’d never noticed it before watching the film this time through.
  • Kathleen McDermott sounds so much like one of my Glaswegian friends that it’s unreal. Spooky, even.
  • There’s a funny cut about two-thirds of the way through the film, when Morvern and Lanna are drinking champagne on a patio, pretending to be Swedish tourists in response to a dual come-on by two English guys. Running away from these guys, they head out towards the beach in broad, middle-of-the-day sunlight. Cut to the two running onto to the beach, champagne bottle in hand, wearing slightly different clothes, only under the cover of darkness. I know it’s meant to be later in the day, but the way it was edited makes it look like one has transitioned seamlessly into the other.
  • Now, I’ve been to my fair share of Scottish pubs, both urban and rural, and never have I ever seen a dog on top of a pool table like we see near the end of the film. In Europe, yes; they love their dogs, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. But not in Scotland. Besides, there is clearly a game underway in this scene. Nonetheless, there he sits, Hamish the Hunting Dog, just wagging his little heart out.
  • It’s always interesting to note which scenes writer-directors will choose to include and which will fall by the wayside, and then to consider precisely why it was A scene that made the cut while B scene was excised. In particular, I wonder what it was about the Morvern-Lanna acid trip baking scene that demanded inclusion. Not only inclusion, but a good three to four minutes of edited scene work. While it certainly captures the ‘we’re in a small town and fucked up, so let’s do something counter-intuitive and fun’ vibe, I’m less sure of what it has to say about Ramsay’s particular interpretation of Morvern or the story. But hey, girls dancing around covered in flour. You probably won’t find me objecting to that anytime soon.
  • Holy shit. Ramsay has, as of last month, secured funding to make a science fiction adaptation of Moby Dick that takes place in space. I repeat: holy shit. I already liked her, and now I think she is verifiably bad-ass.

[1] Both Warner and Welsh first gained notoriety in the early ‘90s by publishing short fiction in Kevin Williamson’s Scotland-based counter-culture literary magazine, Rebel, Inc.

[2] I say this in full recognition that the generic category of ‘indie film’ was, on its own, a topical obsession of the post-Miramax boom in independent filmmaking and therefore also itself linked to the 1990s.

[3] If I’m being honest, I did not actually see this film in 2002. In fact, I did not see it until 2007 or thereabouts, right after I finished the novel for the first time.

[4] Last year, in an English 242 course at the University of Washington, I taught Warner’s novel as a component piece in a larger examination of issues in contemporary Scottish fiction writing. While I was prepared for the students to be a little nonplussed by her, I was not in any way ready for the barrage of hostility that emerged in student essays. Not only did they not understand her actions, they actively disliked her, many because they felt that they couldn’t ‘connect’ with her emotionally [this was a particular problem for my female students, who seemed more disturbed by the presence of such an emotionally neutral woman].

[5] Which is ironic, really, given that she is an orphan and foster-child.

[6] I say this in full awareness that, like any other organic social and cultural phenomenon, ‘the scene’ also continues to operate outside this overly commercialized version of itself, with electronic music and the parties associated with it still very much pushing at the boundaries of what the normalized, accepted forms can do and say.

[7] As you’ll see if you read the comments attached to the YouTube clip embedded here, there is at least the possibility that this scene is meant to be a flashback, and that it occurs before, not after, the original trip to Spain. Two separate commenters argue that we can’t know whether this is her in Spain again (which is how the novel has it) or whether it is her before. I’m not sure if we can know this, and her admission to Lanna just  before this that she is going away again seems to indicate that it’s at least as likely that the temporal sequence here is linear and that we are, in fact, seeing Morvern clubbing once again, but on her own. Given the plot trajectory of the novel, I’m inclined to lean towards the latter conclusion. However, I take the point that, given Ramsay’s previous work (especiallyRatcatcher), this could be an intentional formal design intended to play off the reduction of the plot to Morvern’s story (the death of Him, her new array of choices, etc), rather than the context in which it occurs.

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