Click on the link below for the video essay:
Lynne Ramsay’s tackling of social and emotional issues, particularly poverty and trauma, is frequently revered as ground-breaking- or at least expertly crafted, due to the element of artistic poeticism her films are centred around. Studying cinematography at the National Film and Television School, her films are often viewed through a cinematographic lens. However, much discussion of Ramsay’s work is so centred around cinematography and visual poeticism that it neglects the narrative, characteristic and emotional impact of said visual focus, meaning that many readings of the emotional content of her films are left underdeveloped, without sufficient focus on textual analysis. Most video essays centred around Ramsay focus purely on her visual style, with popular essays such as Tony Zhou’s (under the pseudonym ‘Every Frame a Painting’) ‘Lynne Ramsay- The Poetry of Details’, amassing almost one million views, focusing on tiny visual elements of Ramsay’s work without giving significant depth to the impact of this style. This is not necessarily a misdemeanour on the respective essayist’s part, merely it is a symptom of a heavy focus on as large and undefined topic as visual poetry. For this reason, my project is given more specificity, focusing in on a smaller subsection of Ramsay’s stylistic tendencies, centred around the significance of the bath and the bathroom. In this project, I first aim to give some contextualisation over the previous uses of baths and bathrooms in cinema, arriving at the conclusion that while these examples, do contain key scenes in baths, the bath is mostly used to symbolise something which is already present, namely, in these examples such as Scarface (1983) and Pretty Woman (1990), the luxury their respective characters have come into. There is a sense that while these scenes take place in a bath, much of the narrative effect could have still been achieved in a completely different setting. However, in Ramsay’s films, largely due to her incessant return to the theme of water, there is a sense that the bath is perfectly suited to the narrative and characteristic through lines she aims to explore. Through justifying these thoughts alongside a foundation of texts such as Annette Kuhn’s ‘Ratcatcher’ and Stella Hockenhull’s ‘British Women Film Directors in the New Millenium’, as well as interviews with Ramsay where she gives some background to her films, I aim to digest the emotional connections Ramsay seeks to explore through the bath and bathroom. One potential drawback of this style of analysis could be the lack of academic founding. Despite considering the two key texts listed above, this textual analysis-heavy approach to film criticism requires much of my own input, and with a lack of pre-existing, relevant research into the narratives of Ramsay’s films, the project risks being too subjective. However, I have aimed to counter-balance this, with much credit being lent to the unique format of the video essay, by justifying my points with on-screen references and backing.
Ratcatcher- Ramsay’s first feature, following a guilt-ridden child, James, who finds himself responsible for the accidental manslaughter of his friend, Ryan. In this film, the bath acts as a vessel to hold the recurring theme of water, offering a place for Ryan and Margaret Ann to take some respite from their harsh surroundings, and indulge in play. However, due to its associations with water, it also acts as a merciless reminder of James’ guilt, tied strongly to the canal through Ramsay’s use of montage between the bath scenes, and scenes of James’ dad saving another child, Kenny, from the canal.
You Were Never Really Here- Following hitman Joe as he tries to save Nina from a child-exploitation ring, Ramsay here makes use of the bath to tie Joe’s work life to his home life. While he cleans up the overflown bath for his mother at home, he also cleans up the pedophile ring for Nina. This works as a tying together of Joe’s affinity for the two important women in his life, and when his mother dies, Joe transfers his emotional connections on to Nina, marked by a crucial scene in the lake. However, this connection is foreboded in the previously mentioned bath sequence.
Swimmer- Our brief relationship with a long distance swimmer becomes increasingly convoluted, and we begin to wonder what his true connection with the water is. Although there is no space for a bath scene in this short, Ramsay’s classic use of water is ever-present, and we can carry some of the ideas explored in this film in to our discussion of the bath.
Morvern Callar (2002)– Holding a scene which I would argue is symbolic of Ramsay’s depiction of the bath and the bathroom, the film sees born-again Morvern take control of her life in the wake of her boyfriend’s suicide. The bath scene works as a depiction of her growing confidence, and preludes her further emotional development in the film. Before she can fully move on with her life, she has to completely end any previous connection with her deceased boyfriend, and it is no coincidence that Ramsay decides to host this scene in the bathroom.
Don’t Look Now- I argue that this self-professed influence on Ramsay carries into her use of trauma explored through water, with the opening scene, following John’s despair at watching his daughter drown, carrying particular relevance.
Through tying these examples together, I aim to provide a cohesive, pragmatic, and comprehensive view of Ramsay’s use of water, which is exemplified in her use of the bath.
Kuhn, A., Ratcatcher (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Hockenhull, S., British Women Film Directors in the New Millennium(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
Morvern Callar (2002), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK.
Seven Pounds (2008), dir. Gabriele Muccino, Overbrook, USA.
The Shining (1980), dir. Stanley Kubrick, Warner Bros, USA.
Pretty Woman (1990), Garry Marshall, Touchstone, USA.
Scarface (1983), dir. Brian de Palma, Universal, USA.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), dir. Wes Craven, New Line, USA.
American Beauty (1999), dir. Sam Mendes, Dreamworks, USA.
The Big Lebowski (1998), dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Working Title, USA.
Fight Club (1999), dir. David Fincher, Fox, USA.
Psycho (1960), dir. Alfred Hitchcock, Universal, Paramount, UK.
Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK.
You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir. Lynne Ramsay, Film4, UK.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK.
Swimmer (2012), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK..
Every Frame a Painting, ‘Lynne Ramsay- The Poetry of Details’, published on 7/5/2015