Back when I was just starting college, I took a class called “film and video analysis” where we would watch a film and dig deep into how it was made and what the entire point of the movie actually was. Amongst a few others, one that really stood out to me was Ratcatcher, a film that is really nothing like it sounds. Over the years since I took that course, I haven’t gotten a chance to revisit the movie until just recently, and I was pleased that it still had the same effect on me as it did when I first saw it. This is a somber yet poetic movie about the loss of innocence in an environment where only certain people could survive and even fewer escaped.
After accidentally causing his good friend (Thomas McTaggart) to drown, James (William Eadie) is left to suffer with his guilt while trying to make the best of life in a poor section of Glasgow during garbage strike of 1973. Trash and pests litter the streets and backyards of James’ town, which causes him to dream about life outside of the city. James’ parents George (Tommy Flanagan) and Anne (Mandy Matthews) are doing what they can to provide for their children and be relocated to new developments outside of the city, although James’ relationship with his father is strained by alcoholism and a severe lack of any other connections. James finds solace in visiting the new housing projects and making friends with neighborhood girl Margaret (Leanne Mullen), who is tortured by the local teenage boys.
Ratcatcher is a very episodic movie without a really strong conflict holding the entire movie together. What really holds the movie together is the thematic mood that writer/director Lynne Ramsay has created. The style of this movie is very similar to British Realism, and Ramsay’s particular film making techniques reminds me of Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank, Wasp) technique. While Ratcatcher takes place in Scotland, it is a British and Scottish production, so similarities in style makes sense. This works perfectly well for this movie, and I would consider it one of the most honest films I have ever seen. There is no sugar coating or inappropriate optimism here. It depicts a difficult life for a most difficult child.
That picture right above this really summarizes the mood of the film. I have to give major props to the child actors in this movie, but especially William Eadie. His role is extremely difficult, and it’s surprising that he manages to hold it all together so well. He comes across as very intelligent but just as naïve. The weight of this role really should be more than a kid his age could handle. He’s up there with Catinca Untaru from The Fall. Another excellent performance can be seen in Leanne Mullen, who plays the role of Margaret, the tortured neighborhood girl. I read one review that compares her facial acting to Maria Falconetti and her performance in The Passion of Joan of Arc. This movie, especially with its roots in British Realism, wouldn’t have worked without the performances of these young actors.
Something else that Ramsay really succeeds at is painting a portrait of the time period and the setting that Ratcatcher is trying to portray. This is a dark side of Glasgow in the 1970s during a most unbelievable conflict concerning the trash men. It’s amazing that people lived this way for a while with rats and garbage piled up and dead animals laying amongst it. Ramsay’s uncompromising portrayal of this deserves a round of applause, especially with everything she had to go through to get this result. She even went so far as to dig a new canal for filming purposes. That is dedication that payed off in the end.
Ratcatcher is a thought provoking coming of age story that I still can’t quite get a grasp on. Is it a commentary on the lifestyle of the time or is it simply about loss of innocence in the most extreme way possible? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Still and all, I was pleased to see that this movie still amazed me even after the time that I haven’t seen it. I remembered a lot from when I watched it in school, but there were parts that still surprised me. This is a disturbingly poetic film that tells a wonderful story about a damned childhood. Definitely a must see.