Cinemasters Feature: Lynne Ramsay

In association with the GFT

Žad Novak examines the singular authorial presence throughout the works of Lynne Ramsay

‘I suppose I make it hard for myself in a way. I shy away from easy explanations and I don’t do the big redemptive thing. Either you like that or you hate it about my films. That’s the way I am, though. I think life is infinitely complex and film is in some way a beautiful, dark dream sequence. I’m essentially a dreamer.’ – Lynne Ramsay

Unlike that of most Cinemaster protagonists, Lynne Ramsay’s online biography is kept short: born in Glasgow in 1969, Ramsay first went to Napier College in Edinburgh and got a degree in photography, and then to National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield to study cinematography and directing. Up until now, her best-known work has been 2011’s We Need to Talk about Kevin starring Tilda Swinton, but her new feature You Were Never Really Here is looking to soon overtake that title, receiving widespread acclaim and winning awards at Cannes for the best screenplay (Ramsay) and the best actor (Joaquin Phoenix). This is more or less as far as her Wikipedia profile goes, but don’t be fooled: Lynne Ramsay is a strong filmmaker who knows what type of films she wants to do and is not willing to tone down her artistic vision in order to please producers, investors or even audiences. Yet with that unwavering artistic vision has nonetheless come industry recognition, as Ramsay has won awards for every feature-length film she’s made.

Lynne Ramsay is often described as an auteur, rather than a filmmaker. In film terminology, auteur refers to directors who’s impact upon their films is so strong that they are considered their authors. Interestingly, Ramsay works mainly by writing and directing book adaptations, yet still manages to have a completely unique vision of how to tell their stories. She never attempts to transfer every single line onto the big screen or do anything that could be referred to as a ‘faithful adaptation’. Quite the contrary, Ramsay’s work runs low on dialogue and is not afraid to remove entire scenes that the auteur does not see as fitting to her visual narrative. Taking from the books what she deems most important, the characters and the atmosphere, Ramsey then uses pictures to capture the state of mind of the protagonists, their relationships, and how they deal with the situation at hand. In Tilda Swinton’s words, with whom I agree very much: “Lynne is making films in her head all the time. She is one of those rare directors who creates the kind of films that just would not be there if she didn’t make them.”

For me, We Need to Talk about Kevin is as uncomfortable as a film can get. Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, the film, in a non-linear fashion, looks at Kevin’s mother Eve (Tilda Swinton) both before and after he commits a horrible crime. Although Kevin’s name is in the title of the movie, the focus is largely on his home environment, primarily his mother, whom no one believes when she suspects her son might be developing psychopathic tendencies. The camera often rests on Eve, showing her constant questioning of whether she is the one to blame for how Kevin turned out: did she not love him enough? Did she not fight enough to have others acknowledge the problem?  This question of blame is not at all comfortable, neither for Eve nor for the audience. Because if she is to blame for not properly addressing it within her reality, then we as an audience are to blame for not addressing similar problems in our own. How do we help mothers that simply do not feel the bond with their child? That is a realistic situation. And on the other side of the spectrum, why do we, although we so strongly believe in the mother-child relationship, ignore mothers, who spend more time than anyone with their child, when they are trying to tell us that something is amiss? These are the questions that We Need to Talk about Kevin manages to voice without any excessive or obvious dialogue, through framing which shows allows only a partial observance through which to judge Kevin. As a true auteur, Ramsay uses cinematography as an expressive tool in itself, rather than a companion to the written word – so much so that, if any words stuck with me, they were from the film’s title: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.  

Aside from We Need to Talk about Kevin and her latest, You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay’s has filmed only two other features: Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002), both very much worth watching. In the public eye, there were also a couple more projects with which she did not continue due to artistic disputes, with Ramsay not willing to compromise with her preference of photography over dialogue for exploration of unflattering social questions and uncomfortable human psychology. This is exactly why the Lynne Ramsay’s Cinemasters season is definitely worth the trip to the cinema – as every single one of these films represents the singular, uncompromising vision of the director, and each will leave you with questions buzzing in your head.  

The GFT is hosting a Cinemasters season focusing on the works of Lynne Ramsay, including screenings of Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, and We Need to Talk About Kevin. Tickets are available here.

Ramsay’s latest feature, You Were Never Really Here, will screen at the GFT from the 11th to the 22nd of March. See our review here.

[Žad Novak]

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