Movies We Like
Morvern Callar is one of the most visually stimulating films I have ever seen. Based on the novel by Alan Warner, it is a poetic and complex work that stirs some of the most tender and infuriating emotions within us. The opening scene is fragmented and leads the film to its core with the same sorrow and confusion that will remain present throughout the feature. Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) finds her boyfriend shortly after he has slit his wrists and finds a message on his computer instructing her to publish his novel, make arrangements for his funeral, and to "be brave."
You wait for some kind of outburst from her. It’s Christmastime and everything is uncomfortably quiet. She lies on the ground next to his dead body and caresses his back. She leaves the body alone and opens her Christmas presents: a sliver Zippo, leather jacket, tape player, and a mix tape. After a while she listens to it and chain smokes. Still, you are waiting for some kind of extreme action in order to break your discomfort. In a sense, there is an extreme, but not what you'd expect. She begins to bathe and put on makeup, eventually leaving to attend a wild party with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott). The film focuses on the color red throughout almost every shot, keeping you on the edge and expecting something foul. But I think the red stands for more than bloodshed. It reappears to illustrate the carnage in everyday life and the desire to eat it up before you get old.
Once Morvern returns from the party, she still does not acknowledge or approach the body. She goes to his computer and re-reads her instructions. Once again you wait for something rational to happen, and you are denied that pleasure. She deletes his name from his novel and types in her own, then prints it out and mails it off to the list of publishers he left. The body remains there as she visits her grandmother and goes to work. Eventually she cleans out his bank account as he told her to do, but instead of using the money to pay for his burial, she schedules a trip to Spain for her and her best friend. It is almost like she kept the body there until she took everything that belonged to it while it was living, then gets rid of it in an absolutely horrific way.
Morvern explains to Lanna that her boyfriend has simply left her, giving no explanation for the mysterious amounts of money she now has. While vacationing in Spain she is contacted by the publishers who love the novel and offer to give her an astounding amount of money for it, considering that she is a first-time author. But by then her friendship with Lanna is suffering, as the removal of her boyfriend brings secrets and betrayal up to the surface.
I asked myself numerous times, "How do you feel about her character?" It wasn’t the power of the movie that was ever in question, nor the fact that I enjoyed it very much—so much that it is now in my Top 20. It was the fact that I was emotionally confused. Should I be angry with or detest Morvern? Do I think she made the right decision? Is she cold, insane, or simply not thinking rationally after abusing drugs and alcohol? With this film I was given a chance to ponder what it would be like to mourn someone through destruction. I started thinking about time and experiences, and about freedom and complacency. There are days when you can play by all the rules and roll with the punches—days where the sight of something terrible does nothing except simmer. Then there are times where you don't know that something has penetrated your soul—you spill a little milk and suddenly everything comes to a boil.
In Morvern Callar, tenderness can be mistaken for patient indifference and gloom for the sublime. This is a proud and confident piece of work that I cannot recommend more. The camerawork brought you into every scene. The soundtrack was well-varied and used wonderfully in the storytelling process, and the way it leaves you feeling is a welcome change. Highly Recommended! Please don't pass up this movie! It opened on only three screens here in the U.S. and was not well received here. Perhaps in 2002 they just weren’t feeling it, but if you're a cinefile, grab a copy and be inspired.