“I’ve always had a problem with the whole concept of celebrity – it reduces people to things.”
Celebrity is something that Nathan McNamara is starting to get more and more first-hand experience of now. He laughs:
“It also annoys me because sometimes I’ll meet someone, and I’ll think ‘I just read an interview with you, so now I feel like I already know everything that’s going on with you’. I’ve learned not to read interviews, actually, otherwise I find myself creating a lot of awkward silences.”
McNamara’s most recent film Rage Not, his first for a major studio, is a tender romance that is earning praise and accolades at every festival where it has been shown. It was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first film by an Irish director to receive such an honour in a decade. It’s easy to see why.
The film follows Liadan, a Sligo girl who comes to Dublin to study, and falls in love with Will, a trendy but thoughtful Dub. After a Hollywood-esque “meet-cute”, McNamara deconstructs many of the clichés of the film romance, and does it without detriment to the story-telling. The characters are easy to like, but have enough foibles to be realistic. The movie is clearly informed by McNamara’s time at Trinity College Dublin
“Well, Trinity is very important to me, and Rage Not draws a lot from the people I met during my time there; the trouser incident actually happened to a friend of mine! But more than that, I just thought that it’s such a wonderful place to make a film. You have these magnificent, grand, buildings from the 18th and 19th century that exude gravitas juxtaposed with the more utilitarian buildings of the last century. That allowed us to have a sort of continuity of location, but still be able to set the tone of different scenes depending on where they were on campus.”
Indeed, Rage Not makes great use of the different locations around the college – idyllic sequences in a garden near the older parts of the college are suffused with warmth and the scent of summer; starker moments are cast against the clinical backdrop of the genetech laboratory where Liadan spends her time as first an undergruaduate, and then as a post-graduate student, and invite the viewer to share in the loneliness and bewilderment that she’s feeling. These cinematographic flourishes by McNamara’s long-time collaborator Mark Quinlan builds on work they had done in previous films.
“While I was very proud of the work we did on Careful, Boy, I felt like it could have happened in any house in any town in almost any country. For Rage Not, we needed the characters to be studying the same subject from completely different sides, but still have the opportunity to interact regularly. Trinity was the obvious choice – it’s where the pioneering work was done on the Simulacra program, and it’s still quite a small community. Given how familiar I am with where the action occurs, I couldn’t accept anything less than perfection. I wanted to be able to watch the film myself and feel like I was in the café with with Will and Liadan. The only way to achieve that, I felt, was to aim for complete verisimilitude in terms of the cinematography. Mark was brilliant here – he really captured it. I could almost taste the awful coffee in the café sequence. I’m incredibly pleased with how this has turned out for us. ”
Rage Not is also notable for featuring a non-human character. This is not McNamara’s first work to include Sims in the cast, and his insistence on having Sims feature as more than just extras has led to problems finding funding in the past. McNamara is unapologetic here, though:
“In this case, it was a little easier to sell to the studio – setting the film in Trinity, with the leads studying in the genetech and cognitive engineering departments meant that it was only natural to have Simulacs around. And I can argue expositional necessity too – explaining heartache to an artifical consciousness, to a new type of being whose experience differs so much from our own allows you to externalise some of the doubts that the characters feel, some of their internal conflict. I think the fact that Sino gives Liadan advice and she actually takes it will probably annoy the old-fashioned, ‘down-with-this-sort-of-thing’ crowd, but they wouldn’t have gone to see my film anyway.”
McNamara’s point stands – the conversations between Liadan and Sino, her Simulac Teaching Assistant never feel contrived. These conversations are a touching in their intimacy, and the innocence and naivete of Sino (protrayed here by Simulac Tan T) push Liadan towards an honesty that could be overlooked with a simple voiceover. Although Sino’s character servers purpose, I get the feeling that McNamara is more pleased with getting a proper, almost human Simulac character into his film.
“Well, it is what it is,” McNamara says with a twinkle in his eye. “I think it goes back to what I said earlier about celebrity – treating people as things. When you have a preconceived notion of what someone can or can’t do, what they can or can’t be, then you turn them into a thing. Opinions are what shape action, and if people have such limited opinions, then they tolerate a more limited range of actions – that’s why turn celebrity mistakes into scandals. I think that people should be able to live their life free from perturbation, whether or not they are biological.”
Can McNamara ever see a time when there are Simulac celebrities?
“That is a punishment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!” he says with a laugh. However if he and film makers like him have their way, actors like Rage Not’s Tan T may be among the first generation of Simulac film stars.
Rage Not is in cinemas across Ireland from Jan 15.
This article reproduced from Friday’s Irish Times with permission