Death becomes her 

Morvern Callar discovers a life worth living

Most films end with a dead body, but Morvern Callar is part of a smaller sorority of movies (Sunset Boulevard, River's Edge) that begin with one.

Morvern Callar is a film about the death of feeling, or possibly an awakening of it. Lynne Ramsay's follow-up to Ratcatcher begins with the off-and-on twinkling of Christmas tree lights as their sickly red glow illuminates the corpse in the middle of Morvern Callar's living room. Her boyfriend has committed suicide and left Morvern (Samantha Morton) with a scrawny inheritance: some unopened Christmas presents, money for his funeral and a manuscript he wants her to send to some publishing houses on his behalf.

Morvern at first walks around in a stupor; she goes about her business as if nothing happened, picking up boys with her giggly friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) and telling Lanna that her boyfriend is simply "gone." No one craves additional details. The two friends traipse out to the countryside for a party where bonfires are lit and girls rip off their bras and dance topless. Though drugs and alcohol smooth the rough edges, we see from the way the girls shiver in their mini skirts or walk home from a party, that there is a shabby, pitiable quality to their "adventures."

Morvern is about the grand scale transformations a sudden shock like death can create. In a justifiably selfish act, Morvern sends her boyfriend's manuscript off to publishers with her name on it. What can a corpse do with fame and money, after all? His death liberates her -- she is emotionally unmoored from the grim, pointless surroundings of the gray town, her supermarket job and her own slow crawl to death.

When she uses the boyfriend's funeral money to treat Lanna and herself to a vacation in Spain, Morvern begins to do something more than simply stew in the shock and isolation left behind in death's wake.

Each night, the other tourists in their hive-like hotel shriek and party and throw toilet paper from their balconies while Morvern, slowed down and attentive, watches a bug's journey across the tile floor. For Morvern, life is suddenly trippy, and her friend's ecstatic, giddy clubbing and fucking amidst the other working-class Euros on budget holidays aren't doing it for her anymore.

Morvern Callar is a profound if often oblique picture of characters caught up in the buzz and activity of their parties and drugs. Ironically, director Ramsay is not immune to the pull of superficial glamour herself. Ramsay often indulges in moments of rock and roll decadence with scenes of Morvern zonked out on a Spanish dance floor or disposing of her boyfriend's body while dressed in tinted sunglasses and underwear. The film can often bow under such style-queen mannerisms -- especially when it chooses the perfect music to illustrate incidents as neatly as a TV commercial. Such moments threaten to lose the film's hold on the ultimate vacuity and emptiness of Morvern's life, which Ramsay can also make look pretty edgy and hypnotic.

But Ramsay's film gets under your skin. It throws moral absolutes out the window and suggests that many people are too busy surviving to pay attention to the world outside themselves. Morvern Callar mixes a depressing vision of the human race -- as seen by Morvern's greedy, desperate actions -- with a bright one in which the viewer champions her desire to finally grasp at something more than her cold, depressing life offers her.


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Recent Comments

  • Re: Fresh air

    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

    • on June 29, 2016
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