Mar 26, 2010

On The Eclipse

By Evan Louison

Conor Macpherson's work has never offered itself to an American audience without the caveat that Ireland’s mystery, its people and its traditions, would always remain one step beyond American's understanding. Yet in all his work, Shining City and The Seafarer included, there exists a universality that transcends this cultural and geographical. The same can be said of his latest picture, The Eclipse which like Shining City contains a widower plagued by ghostly memories of his bride and like the The Seafarer maintains the conceit of a heaven that can be reached if you live a good, rich life.

McPherson's tale focuses on an Irish shop-teacher/widower named Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) who volunteers as a runner at the local literary festival, shuttling writers of certain famous (or infamous) ilk, back and forth from their quarters to the various readings and events at which they are expected to shine. All the while, mysterious spectral figures and noises haunt him, growing increasingly explicit and over-gored, resembling his institutionalized father-in-law, his late wife’s father, who strangely enough, is still alive. Michael leads the lonely life of a single father, nobly carrying on his work for the festival, secretly writing stories of these haunting visions. And remembering his wife and the suffering she endured before her death from cancer, which appears to be the source of all his nightmares.

It is here in the context of these late-night visitations and the ongoing festival that he stumbles across a quite beautiful writer, Lena Morelle, with whom he slowly falls in love (a brilliant Iben Hjejle), and her not-so-beautiful or pleasant to be around ex-lover Nicholas Holden, the darling of this literary set, self-important et al, played in an annoying, brash tone by Aidan Quinn. Mr. Quinn is not to be found at fault here, he’s brought great emotional and honest performances to the screen in the past and will again, it’s just that his character, a gauche, bravado ridden, pompous ass of a writer is so obtusely written, that the cards are tipped immediately, we read quite clearly that we are intended to hate him, and have no real choice in the matter of choosing. In this, the story falters, disappointingly, and we are drawn more and more to distracting elements of reality that seem hokey or modern than the underlying mystery of the supernatural that Mr. Macpherson clearly hopes for our sense of intrigue to be spurred by.

The most beautifully composed part of the story happens about three quarters the way through, when a harrowed and spent Michael, exhausted from the rush of demons never ceasing to plague him, and a quite unnecessary and ugly fight with Nicholas, awakes in the light of the morning to his dead wife, looking as she did at death’s door, sitting at the edge of the bed. She changes before our eyes, looking younger, more vibrant and full of life, as she must have when Michael first met her. She pulls herself closer to him, a soothing touch of comfort amid the storm of his story, finally a ghost of solace. It is a touching, all too real moment, note-worthy, and of the picture’s finest. It contains in it the essence of the story I believe Conor Macpherson wanted to and perhaps set out to tell: One of loss, of the paranormal, of memory, and eventually, of some kind of resolution.

Ciaran Hinds turns in another graceful turn as his warmly welcomed, perennial, brooding everyman. The wonderful, underexposed Danish actress Iben Hjejle (High Fidelity, The Boss of It All), with her innate ability to quiet and punctuate a scene, no matter how violent, no matter how dominated by men much larger than she, is equally fine. However as the rivalry between Hind's modest, small-town Irish Joe and the arrogant American author reaches its crescendo and the visions become more explicit, and more reminiscent of Evil Dead and its descendents, the piece comes unhinged. The film has the ability to scare, this much is true, but not to leave us affected in the way it would like to.