Screen Education

Ratcatcher CHILDHOOD, TRAUMA AND TRANSITIONAL SPACES

In a static, slow-motion shot, a small boy, Ryan (Thomas McTaggart), turns while wrapping himself in a white curtain decorated with flower patterns. The sound – faded, distorted, as if coming from a distant place – takes the child’s subjective perspective. We might imagine this is how babies sense the exterior world when they are in their mothers’ wombs – or how bodies experience the last moments before death’s embrace. Suddenly, Ryan’s mother (Jackie Quinn) hits his head, and her angry voice reprimands him. Sound and movement recover their realistic character. When both figures leave the frame, the camera remains in the same position, showing how the curtain slowly unravels. Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher (1999) opens – as her best-known feature, We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), also does – with the camera fixated on this curtain: a veil between the real, material world and the inner depths of dream and fantasy.

In hindsight, this opening sequence seems to prefigure – through the perfectly banal act of a child playing with whatever is at hand – the film’s major dramatic incident, taking place only minutes later, when Ryan accidentally drowns in a canal while playing with young James (William Eadie). This latter moment, however, isn’t underlined in any conventional way. Ramsay refuses to signal in advance its weight or importance. Tragedy simply happens, without warning, in the midst of a tussle between kids. Its depiction is filled with the uncertainty and confusion of the moment. As if aligned with James’ psyche, the camera remains unable to react, paralysed with fear. For a brief moment,.

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