Friday, September 10, 2010

Dark side of the sun

First of all, let's not get excited or confused. The film under observation is a small Irish ghost story called The Eclipse (2009), not Eclipse: The Endless Twilight Thing.

The whole enterprise is virtually the definition of slight, a wisp, an anecdote, but it has the virtue of being continually intriguing, and a sense of satisfaction at the end. Perhaps that's because while very very little has taken place in the story, the protagonist has moved a great emotional distance.

Another great satisfaction is the role-reversal of the principal male roles. The usually charming and decent Aidan Quinn gets to play a narcissistic SOB. Ciaran Hinds, who usually plays kings, emperors or commanders, here plays an ineffectual and literally frightened man. And no disrespect to anyone else involved, Hinds is the whole show and it's a pretty good show.

It also has the good sense, as a ghost movie, not to give away or explain its ghosts. It never clarifies whether they're really there or just in Hinds' head, since it doesn't really make any difference, because Hinds sees them. And, of course, they serve their metaphoric purpose far better that way.

I used to wonder why so few films which required extensive exteriors were shot in the United Kingdom or Ireland, until I lived there for a year in the late 1970s, and realized that the weather was so rapidly changeable (especially in Scotland, Ireland and Wales) that it would be a continuity nightmare to try and match shots made only minutes apart from each other. Thirty-some years later, lighter, faster cameras, faster stocks and nimble, hard-working film crews have made it possible to bring the real look of the British Isles to film. The Eclipse was made in Cobh, which is beautiful, but given to a lot of dark, gloomy skies and rain. This, of course, makes it ideal for a ghost movie, and much good use is made of that moody southwestern Ireland climate.

Moreover, the film is one of the few to dramatize an interior psychological process, that is, Hinds's character working through stage of mourning. The outward apparent action concerns a literary festival, a sympathetic woman writer and the American writer who is trying to revive an old affair with her. But that action quickly moves to the background. Some writers about the film complain that it has few events, or that it depicts much of the routine activity of the literary festival. But that is the nature of process--it is backgrounded behind mundane aspects of daily life, and one waits warily for the next milestone to assert itself. It is the dramatization of non-drama.

As Eat, Pray, Love demonstrated, it is difficult to film a spiritual journey. The Eclipse comes a lot closer, as we see a man work through grief, exorcise some ghosts and prepare to begin life anew.

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