Thursday, 8 December 2011

Margaret - Kenneth Lonergan (2011)

  1. Margaret is a flawed, overloaded, but moving film by Kenneth Lonergan.
  2. Who's Kenneth Lonergan? Well, he wrote Analyze This and, yeah, ok, The Gangs of New York. But wait, Margaret is really good, and at no point do gangs of men march on set, armed with a range of cutlery, and introduce themselves. If you're wondering what Lonergan looks like, he plays Anna Paquin's screenwriter dad here.
  3. Don’t Matt Damon and Anna Paquin look terrific? It’s not CGI, it’s just that this movie has been trapped in post-production since 2006. Lonergan shot hundreds of hours of footage but couldn’t arrive at a cut he could live with. Fox Searchlight, to their credit, wouldn’t release the film without his approval – but they did sue him, hard, for not getting his shit together. This explains why, despite having some major stars in it, there was zero publicity, and you can only see it in about two London cinemas.
  4. What you’re watching is a cut by Martin Scorsese, signed off by Lonergan. Things have to get pretty bad before people start saying ‘let’s get Scorsese to do this, at least he’s not such a perfectionist.’
  5. It’s a film about sympathy, and how much we can really be expected to feel for other people.
  6. All modern life depends on apathy. For instance, it’s only possible to inhabit a city like New York or London because, beyond your family and closest acquaintance, you don’t really care what happens to the human beings around you. Imagine the emotional ‘load’ of a single London tube carriage: all the hopes, dreams and fears of all those people sitting in close proximity to you. Compare that with your own deafening sense of isolation when sitting on the tube. The city has turned you into a psychopath. Why, you could probably watch someone being horribly maimed in a traffic accident and have forgotten about it by lunchtime.
  7. Or could you? Are there certain kinds of tragedy that would force you into deep sympathetic contact with the strangers around you. And how would that be? Isn't there something greedy-seeming and, ironically, unsympathetic, about trying to participate in someone else’s emotional life without their permission? And how do we choose who we feel for and who we don’t? These are just a few of the pleasantly un-worked-out questions that the film raises.
  8. There is no one in this film called Margaret – the title comes from a poem, Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s about a little girl crying for the dead leaves in Autumn. Hopkins basically explains to her that she’s crying for her future self who’s bound to end up so weighed down with human misery that things like dead leaves just won’t even touch the sides. Just one good reason for never leaving your child alone with a Jesuit.
  9. You probably noticed that, in the scene in which Joan and Lisa sit down in the New York Opera House, the shot is an extension of your own view of the cinema’s seating. It’s a paradox that if you want to care about people you have to go to the opera. Or the cinema. Another paradox is that the people invested with responsibility for the public expression of emotion are actors, the most narcissistic, emotionally self-involved people there are.
  10. The experience which Lisa is having at the end of the film is catharsis, as described by Aristotle. The drawing out of emotion elicited by drama. The spooky thing is that what she’s watching is Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, which has nothing to do with her situation whatever. Which is, realistically speaking, true of any work of art you've ever loved.

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