You have caught me in a lie. What follows is not a review of The Eclipse, a beautiful, elegiac Irish ghost story staring Ciaran Hinds. No, this is a review of the thirty minute Kony 2012 viral video produced by “Invisible Children” and featuring alleged public masturbator and haver of a Hitler Youth son, Jason Russell. I feel it’s important to stay topical and one way to do that is by writing about things that a) Justin Bieber retweeted, b) were promptly exposed as ineffective and probably unethical “awareness-raising” nonsense, c) benefited from backlash backlash, and finally, were d) fully imploded when one of the founders took his Linus out in full view of both Gods and men.
We helped Africa this big!
No. I’m just fucking with you. Let’s talk about The Eclipse. It’s a movie about Irish people, a population also plagued by colonial adventurism, intracommunity violence, and despair, but without all the viral videos.
Hinds, he of the perpetually hangdog face, plays Michael Farr, a lonely widower who passes his time in Country Cork by teaching shop class, caring for his two largely despondent children, and occasionally looking in on his aging father-in-law. Every year, his town hosts a literary festival, the biggest event for miles around (an indication that he lives in a boring place). He decides to volunteer as a driver for visiting talent and finds himself falling in with an American superstar/rake (Aidan Quin) and a fetching writer of high-minded supernatural mysteries (Iben Hjejle, who was in High Fidelity and has a name that is very difficult to type).
Oooooh! Her… Still with the bangs, huh?
Hinds finds himself waking up to all sorts of possibilities, emerging from the fog of loss and perhaps considering the possibility of a late-in-life romance with this strange blonde writer–just as soon as he punches Aidan Quinn in the face. But something else is going on, inhabiting the shadows of his consciousness, the parts of himself where he can’t quite see what’s in the corner of his mind’s eye. This realization comes in the form of disturbing visions, nightmares that punctuate the otherwise somber, often sweet, nature of the story with outbursts of otherworldy violence.
Because it’s Ireland, where the main industries are potatoes, sadness, whiskey, and magic, he does not immediately discount himself as crazy. The idea that perhaps his visions tell the future of one of the major characters (is it the wheelchair bound old man?), or that they serve as a warning for him to leave behind the life of grief he has allowed himself to be imprisoned by are never far from his consideration; life is lonely, but death is lonelier. It is his willingness to entertain the impossible that gives the film emotional weight. Hinds gives us a man who we imagine must have a very difficult time getting up in the morning and turns him into a dignified presence, one struggling to remake a life after heartbreak has torn most of what he knows apart.
The Eclipse is neither a horror film nor a romance. It inhabits a strange in-between space, populated by fine actors who simply want to portray believable people, wrestling with the possibility of omens, specters, and that most mysterious thing of all… the human heart.
Hinds is outstanding in the lead, always underplaying and a perfect contrast to the far meatier roll allotted to Aidan Quiin, who here shows a knack for scenery chewing that has been either unnoticed or underused throughout his career. Hinds is actively trying to evaporate while Quinn is doing his damnedest to make it rain. It fun to watch them dance. Hjejle, who should be in more movies, plays a believable woman with talent and the scene in which she reads from her novel is captivating, relying only on inflection and her ability to stand stock still.
The script itself will one day be part of the Irish cannon (one hopes), hanging out with Yeats, Beckett, and Joyce. Yes, it‘s that good. It has a fundamental Irishness to it, something I describe as fragile good-humored melancholy. These characters know they have troubles, but their misery is nothing worth spoiling your good time for. It seems their philosophy is best summed up by Tom Stoppard (who is not Irish): Life in a box is better than no life at all. If that’s not a mordantly funny imprimatur for soldiering on in spite of the shadows hanging over you then I just don’t know what.
Sensitively rendered, often terrifying, and a reminder that of all the storytellers in Europe, the Irish have a way of making even the weirdest shit seem both beautiful and perfectly normal. It’s a wonderful film that should have received a great deal more critical and audience attention. Perhaps it suffered from the dire circumstance of being released in the U.S. in the same Year of Our Lord as a certain bullshit sequel in a cycle of Mormon Vampire movies. But that’s the luck of the Irish: even their sexual repression can’t catch a break.
When will the Cullen on Cullen violence end?
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the specter of an old man emerges from the shadows to terrify Ciaran Hinds
Take a Drink: whenever Aidan Quinn shouts something utterly nonsensical
Take a Drink: every time a sullen looking body of water appears in the background of a shot