Morvern Callar (Ramsey, 2002)

Morvern Callar by Lynn Ramsey.

Lanna: ‘It was just a stupid fuck. It wasn’t even a good one.’

Morvern: ‘Shut Up! He’s dead”

BBC Films, UK Film Council, Scottish Screen, Glasgow Film Fund


“’After repeated viewing ‘Morvern Callar’ remains a strange, unknowable film, more dreamlike than a narrative realist film’. How useful and accurate is this statement?” (30 marks.)

Critical reaction

“A Genuine Masterpiece”  – The Guardian

“This year’s coolest film” – Sight & Sound

“If you haven’t already read the […] plot synopsis, ignore it. If you have, try to forget it, A bald run-through of a film’s narrative will invariably mislead. In the case of Morvern Callar, though, it opens the door to rampant misinterpretation. In essence […] Morvern Callar is a story of love and bereavement; the study of a relationship that continues its trajectory after one party has gone. It’s why its protagonist […] seems at once so vital and so distant: physically she’s there; emotionally she’s conversing with someone who isn’t.”

Xan Brooks

Review: Sight and sound, November 2002

DVD Blurb:

Morvern Callar is a 21 year old supermarket worker in a small port town in the west of Scotland. Morvern believes that life is something you get on with as best you can with what you’ve got. One morning Morvern finds that what she’s got is a dead boyfriend on the kitchen floor…

Cast & Crew

Based on a novel of the same name by Alan Warner

d. Lynn Ramsey

DOP: Alwin Kuchler

Sound Editing: Paul Davies

Note that something rather unique happened in the production of Morvern Callar. The sound editing was designed around the novel and screenplay before editing the film. Rather than the visuals directing the sound the sound to some extent directs the visuals. This gives us some insight into the primary importance of sound in this film.

Lynn Ramsey on the importance of sound:

“When I go to the cinema, I want to have a cinematic experience. Some people ignore the sound and you end up seeing something you might see on television and it doesn’t explore the form. Sound is the other picture. When you show people a rough cut without the sound mix they are often really surprised. Sound creates a completely new world.”

Morvern Callar: Samantha Morton (Minority Report, Control)

Lanna: Kathleen McDermott

Edited Extracts from a prior student’s essay:

(a) Ramsey’s portrayal of one young woman’s journey from the bleak and dismal backdrop of a Glaswegian winter, to a vividly light and almost heavenly Almeria, has been both praised and criticised for a number of different reasons. Samantha Morton (Control, Minority Report) plays Morvern Callar a supermarket worker who finds her boyfriend, James, dead on the kitchen floor on Christmas morning and decides to pass his novel off as her own as she enters a spiralling world of denial, detachment and dragging best friend Lanna (played by Kathleen McDermott) in search of “something beautiful”.            

(b) Morvern’s  motives throughout the film can be construed in various ways; was Morvern simply grief stricken by the her boyfriend’s suicide, was it Morvern who caused his death and her actions are driven by guilt or is Morvern’s character simply a ferociously complex one, shrouded in her own confusion.  Ramsey’s interpretation of loss and its all consuming effects is represented through the innovative use of sound and cinematography.  By keeping Morvern still and her surroundings fast she is kept separate from the world and moves at her own more stunted speed. The Walkman that Morvern receives at the beginning of the film is a safety blanket, (Music For You) a comfort to her which links her back to her boyfriend and the mysterious life before we met her. The use of instrumental music, void of personality is yet another barrier keeping us from getting too close to Morvern.

(c)The doorway is used as a clever emblem throughout the film used as both an echoing reminder of the place where James’ body lay for the best part of a week and a symbol of the distance between us and the action of the film.

Morvern and Lanna  throw baking flour around the kitchen

Morvern slices James’ body into bits in the bath tub

Hotel rooms and corridors in Spain force the audience into being spectators

(d) The scenes of the film seem almost random without a clear flow, much like a dream itself; picturesque vividly saturated scenes of sunny Spain with little meaning, mingled with blunt scene of undeniable purpose make the audience question the where the story is going, and where Morvern’s somewhat impulsive mind will take us next. The various destinations from Scotland to the resort in Spain to a small village each serve a purpose in the development of the story, not in a narrative sense but rather in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ style journey leading from place to place and gaining individual experiences from each one.

(e) With Lanna, a grounded Glaswegian (‘I’m happy here it’s just the same as everywhere else’) enjoying limited life opportunities as they are, we see a greater difference between Morvern and the ‘average young woman’. While Lanna is content in the ordered chaos of the holiday complex, Morvern wishes to search for something more and however close the pair may seem, once bored, Morvern is quite willing to leave Lanna stranded in the deserted wilderness on her own, walking off in a sort of trance.

(f) The overall final impression that the film has on the audience is one of confusion, of questioning not only what they themselves have seen, but of the inner workings of a character that Ramsey never really let us get to know. (M.O.R.V.E.R.N., HELGA, JACKIE, MORVILLE) While the imagery and music seem to be such a key feature of the film, Ramsey’s removal of a key narrative story manages to still keep the audience intrigued; maybe not through the traditional use of sympathy or compassion, but through blind curiosity and an instinct in us which questions her motives at every turn.







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