Field of Streams: RATCATCHER is a Haunting, Lyrical Ode to Youth Lost and Found

Catch Lynne Ramsay’s debut feature on HBO Max or Criterion Channel

The image that has imprinted itself in my mind is as indelible as anything I’ve seen in a movie. Snowball, a pet mouse, is tied to a balloon by his owner Kenny, a sweetly naïve boy, and set adrift in the air. Of course, the mouse will certainly die, just as sure as the mouse would’ve perished had Kenny allowed some mean spirited neighborhood boys continue to toss the mouse between themselves. In the neo-realist world of Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher there is no sugar coating life’s difficulties. But Ramsay allows Kenny, the mouse, and the audience to hope for something better: a way out. As Snowball floats away we follow as he drifts through space and makes his way to a colony of mice on the moon.

Down on Earth, 1973 Glasgow to be specific, 12 year old James dreams about leaving his downtrodden home behind and moving somewhere . The house is idyllic, standing tall and alone as stalks of wheat blow in the breeze. For James that field may as well be on the moon.

In the booklet essays by critic Girish Shambu and filmmaker Barry Jenkins that accompany the Blu-ray release of the film, special attention is given to Ramsay’s poetic style and how expertly she mines life’s toughest moments for beauty. It’s apparent from the opening of the film. James plays in a creek with his friend Ryan, flinging muck at each other and laughing with grime all over their faces. But the joy of playing turns to tragedy in an instant when James pushes Ryan too hard into the water and Ryan doesn’t come up.

The movie is set during Scotland’s national garbage strike. The streets are littered with trash bags, with people and rodents going about their daily lives amidst the filth. Broken people trying to make the best of a broken world. While the plot primarily follows James as he copes with his guilt and hopes of a better tomorrow, Ramsay makes many detours to capture the lives of everyone else in the neighborhood. Kids, teenagers, adults, and their assortment of hardships are shown. We’re bound together by our circumstances and shared troubles. But the thing that separates James and the rest of the characters is whether or not they have any hope left in them.

In a movie full of beautiful and haunting images, it comes back to Snowball the astronaut mouse. As Snowball and the red balloon float higher and higher, Ramsay cuts to a shot of James looking skyward with a look on his face that speaks volumes. It’s like he’s happy that the mouse has escaped their neighborhood, with maybe a tinge of disappointment that he can’t go too.

But James does find his red balloon in Margaret Anne. The two become friends and help each other navigate their troubles together. Despite the darker places the movie goes to, it’s the brief moments of optimism that stand out most.

In addition to catching the film on HBO Max or the Criterion Channel, you can check out the incredible Blu-ray that Criterion out out in 2021. The sound and picture are excellent, capturing the minutiae of daily life in James’ home and the surrounding Glasgow neighborhood. It’s immersive and intimate. Among the special features on the disc are a pair of interviews with Ramsay (one from 2021 and the other from 2002), as well as an interview with cinematographer Alwin Kuchler. But the crown jewel of the disc is the inclusion of three short films Ramsay made prior to Ratcatcher (1995’s Small Deaths, 1996’s Kill the Day, and 1997’s Gasman). The cherries on top are the two booklet essays. The first is by academic Girish Shambu, who brings a great deal of insight with regard to Ratcatcher and Ramsay’s filmography. The other essay is by Barry Jenkins and is a loving ode to Ramsay and the influence she had on him while he was in film school and an aspiring filmmaker. The two essay speak to the full power movies and filmmakers can wield, from the technical wonders to the ephemeral feelings and everything in between.

You can stream Ratcatcher now on HBO Max or The Criterion Channel.

Or get the feature-packed Criterion Blu-ray Edition! If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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