Road Warriors

Adapted from Scottish writer Alan Warner's 1995 cult novel, Morvern Callar—which opens next week opposite The Two Towers and Gangs of New York—has already been anointed the year's "coolest movie" by Sight and Sound. Steeped in the candy-colored anomie that prompted Ramsay to describe her source as "Camus for teenagers," the film is far more fashionably fluid and dreamily disjunctive than the filmmaker's highly regarded debut, the kitchen-sink childhood gothic Ratcatcher (1999). No less than Mersault, the antihero of Camus's The Stranger, Morvern seems singularly unmoved by a loved one's death. She opens her Christmas presents, then leaves the body to go out into the night and party with her friend Lanna (played with animal enthusiasm by nonprofessional actor Kathleen McDermott).

Asked where her boyfriend is, Morvern explains that he's left her. For a time, she lives her life around his corpse; reading his suicide note, she discovers that the dead man has completed a novel, which, following his instructions, she prints out and sends off to a London publisher. Morvern impulsively substitutes her name on the title page, but her now doubly anonymous boyfriend is, in effect, the author of the larger narrative. (In Warner's novel he is referred to only as the always capitalized "He.") His bank account and, eventually, his book buy Morvern's freedom—although it is her job as a supermarket clerk that gives her some idea of how to dispose of his body.

This imaginary author also contributes mightily to the movie, as Morvern is usually plugged into her Walkman and the all-important film score is largely taken from the detailed playlists, described in the novel, that her late lover made for her. However, Ramsay erases Warner's Morvern Callaras nervelessly as Morvern does her boyfriend by eliminating the novel's amorphous first-person narration. (Mysteriously, Morton herself eschews a Scottish accent—just as she refused the necessary American accent for Amos Gitai's Eden—although, in keeping with her propensity for taciturn roles, she speaks as little as possible.)

Whiteman's burden: Nicholson in About Schmidt
photo: Claudette Barius/New Line Productions
Whiteman's burden: Nicholson in About Schmidt

Details

About Schmidt
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Payne & Jim Taylor, from the novel by Louis Begley
New Line
Opens December 13

Morvern Callar
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Written by Ramsay and Liana Dognini, from the novel by Alan Warner
Cowboy
Opens December 20

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There is no access to Morvern's consciousness, such as it is. Her numbness is meant to find eloquence in the movie's lurid colors and luminous tactility. Throughout, Ramsay keeps her camera close to the action, offering ample opportunity to contemplate Morton's sturdy figure and symmetrical, blankly expressive face. (Her perfectly straight mouth unexpectedly breaks into a near demented smile of crooked teeth whenever she and McDermott get to cackling—the rapport between the Oscar nominee and the neophyte seems felt.)

"One of those terrible innocents who shock society by not accepting the rules of its game" (as Sartre described Camus's Mersault), Ramsay's enigmatic Morvern appears to accept the absurd. Midway through, Scotland's cold winter light gives way to the blazing disorientation of Spain's Costa del Sol, as she and Lanna use the dead man's credit card to take off for a prefab, all-inclusive resort filled with stoned young baboons on holiday. Again like Mersault, Morvern always tells the truth, most cunningly in the scene where she meets with the fatuous young editors who are interested in acquiring "her" novel.

Although Ramsay would like to establish Morvern as something beyond a mindless rave chick, the movie is more engrossing than convincing. Still, the filmmaker is less sentimental than Warner when the time comes to reckon Morvern's fate. The viewer might be moved when she elects to remain alone in the disco inferno of her particular planet. (Here, Ramsay makes her own musical comment with the Mamas and the Papas' incantatory cover of "Dedicated to the One I Love.") Like its protagonist, the movie is indifferent to everything but physical sensation.


Related Article:
"Save the Last Trance: Lynne Ramsay's Callar I.D." by Jessica Winter

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