Friday, April 22, 2011

#259. Ratcatcher (1999)

Directed By: Lynne Ramsay

Starring: Tommy Flanagan, Mandy Matthews, William Eadie

Trivia:  For this movie, director Lynne Ramsay won the .Carl Foreman award at the BAFTAs, which is awarded to the "Best Newcomer" in British film

Director Lynne Ramsay’s debut feature, Ratcatcher is the story of James (William Eadie), a twelve-year-old boy from Glasgow whose brief life has already seen its share of troubles. 

The streets of James' neighborhood are littered with trash, the result of a garbage strike that is crippling the entire city. His father (Tommy Flanagan) occasionally drinks too much, which usually leads to some unpleasant confrontations between the two, and the apartment complex his family resides in is situated in the dingiest part of town. 

To make matter worse, James has the added pressure of knowing he was personally responsible for the death of a friend.

That friend, a neighbor boy named Ryan (Thomas McTaggart), was also twelve years old, and the tragedy occurs as the two are playing on the banks of a dirty canal. While jostling back and forth with one another, James gives Ryan a playful shove, causing Ryan to fall into the canal... never to emerge. 

Scared and confused, James runs off, and doesn't tell anyone what's happened. Ryan’s lifeless body is eventually pulled from the canal, but when no witnesses come forward, James decides to keep silent about the whole affair. 

He will spend the next few weeks hanging out with older kids, falling in love with a fourteen-year-old named Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen), and dreaming of the day he and his family will move out of the slums into a beautiful house in the suburbs.

Based on the above synopsis, you might assume that Ratcatcher is a real downer, a collection of grim events that play out against a backdrop of abject poverty. Yet for all its morose trappings, Ratcatcher is really about seeing the world through the eyes of a child. In one sequence, James - having already caused Ryan’s death - catches a bus and rides it to the end of the line, well beyond the Glasgow city limits. The last stop is right next to a suburban construction sight, where James explores the partially built houses, imagining all the while what it would be like to live in such a lovely neighborhood. 

From the window of one house, James can see an open field, a sight that, being a city dweller, is entirely new to him. He runs into this field and lies down, staring up at the sky, basking in the warm sunshine. At the tender age of twelve, James is already familiar with both hardship and tragedy, yet they do not overwhelm him. Whenever life tries to drag James, kicking and screaming, into the adult world, James fights back by delving deeper into childhood, into his own imagination, where nothing can destroy his innocence. Before long, even something as terrible as Ryan’s death will be water under the bridge.

Like director Ramsay’s sophomore effort Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher opens with a tragedy. Yet where Morvern Callar was a study of how misfortune changed one woman’s life forever, Ratcatcher is a tale of overcoming, of moving beyond reality to a place where dreams run wild.

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