Lodge Kerrigan

By Jason Wood

clean-shaven-lodge-kerrigan-2.jpgClean, Shaven, 1993

Writer-director Lodge Kerrigan made his feature debut with the engrossing ‘Clean, Shaven’ (1993), an intelligent and impressionistic study of schizophrenia. Featuring a harrowing central performance from Peter Greene as an estranged, possibly homicidal father in the bleakest of landscapes, the film played at over 30 international film festivals (including Cannes and Sundance) and has been exhibited at the Hirschhorn Museum (the Smithsonian Institution), the American Museum of the Moving Image and included in the Best of the Independents series at the Anthology Film Archives, New York City.

Claire Dolan (1998), Kerrigan’s second feature, was an equally accomplished account of a high price call girl (impeccably played by the late Katrin Cartlidge) whose mother’s death acts as a catalyst for change. Shot in a cold, minimalist style to reflect the impersonal rooms where she plies her trade, the film played in the main competition section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Keane (2005) is Kerrigan’s third feature.

clean-shaven-lodge-kerrigan.jpgClean, Shaven, 1993

Jason Wood: How much of a spur for Keane was the fact that you have a young daughter yourself?

Lodge Kerrigan: It was certainly the impetus. My daughter is now 11 but ever since birth she’s been very independent and free- spirited. I really love this about her, but there have been times when we’ve gone to public places and she’s gone off to be by herself and I haven’t been able to find her. Like any parent I’d be filled with panic and dread. Eventually I’d find her but that strong visceral reaction was certainly an impetus to me deciding to make a film about a man dealing with the grief of having his only child abducted. I also wanted to try and examine whether it would be possible to come to terms with this on any level. I don’t believe it is possible to find peace but I think that as the film progresses William Keane does find some small measure of acceptance.

JW: The not knowing strikes me as particularly painful.

LK: I think that abduction would be even harder to deal with than the death of a child. They say that funerals are for the living and that to see the corpse of someone brings a sense of finality and enables the bereaved to move on. But for parents whose children have been abducted there is no closure.

There were also two other elements I was interested in exploring. The first is that anyone’s life can change irreversibly in a very short period of time. In Keane’s case this is the four minutes in which his child was abducted. I also have a long standing interest in mental illness and was really interested in the idea, and this could apply to anyone of us and not just those with a mental illness that, if we were isolated from society, either living on the streets or in a transient motel, rejected on a daily basis, anyone’s mental health would start to deteriorate very rapidly.

JW: Keane is treated with a lack of compassion at every turn.

LK: I think that it is human nature to try and step away from something scary. People are naturally fearful and don’t want to engage with people living on the street or people who are mentally ill. I try not to be judgmental about it because it is understandable but I also think that we live in really critical times and that there is more room for empathy.

claire-dolen-lodge-kerrigan.jpgClaire Dolan, 1998

JW: We also see aspects of schizophrenia and mental illness in Clean, Shaven and Claire Dolan. Where does this interest come from?

LK: It’s difficult to say, though I do have a friend who suffers from mental illness, so I clearly have a personal connection to it in my life. When I was younger I travelled a lot as my father worked for the US government. Perhaps because I experienced a lot of different cultures, this opened me up to different points of view. I really believe that if each and every one of our personal circumstances were different and if we grew up experiencing certain environments then we could be susceptible to mental illness. The line is very thin, and so I try to put myself in other people’s shoes as I could easily be in their place. I’m not a social filmmaker and I don’t want to appear moralistic or self-righteous. This is why I really focus on individuals.

Keane is obviously a good person with loving qualities but he ends up abducting a young child. This is horrendous but, as a filmmaker, I also try to look at what it means to be human, with all the flaws inherent in that. There are so many institutions- religion, politics, celebrity or even sports- that are trying to push an idealised version of humanity. I prefer to come from a position of acceptance.

JW: You avoid simplistic characters that can be reduced to notions of good or bad.

LK: There are plenty of other people who deal with those. I make challenging films and entertainment is not my priority. People ask me if it is a struggle to make these films and why have you made only three films in ten years. Life is short and if you don’t pursue what you want in your life actively, then you are going to end up pursuing what someone else wants. It’s important to be clear about what you are doing.

JW: Apart from the use of one Motown song there is very little music in the film.

LK: One of the director’s responsibilities is to find the right aesthetic tone for the movie. With Keane I felt that realism would have the biggest impact on an audience; if they felt that he really existed they would be really moved by him and overcome their own distance from someone who is clearly disturbed. You can’t have a score when you are dealing with realism, it would have seemed self- conscious, manipulative and over determined. I should say that I don’t come in with rigid parameters that I apply across the board. I’m actually a fan of scores and have had them in my films before. I do think though that some filmmakers tend to rely on them, using them as a band-aid to fix problems and find emotions that aren’t being generated in the scene. The real emotional life should come from the writing, the performance and the direction.

keane-lodge-kerrigan.jpgKeane, 2004

JW: Did this also drive your visual approach? You use handheld camera throughout, shoot on location and work mostly with available light.

LK: Every scene is shot in real situations. There is no coverage or shots from other angles. The cuts in the film are all jump cuts; it was done in real time. Combined with the live Port Authority locations it’s an extremely risky way of shooting. It also presents problems in terms of capturing the actors as you have to capture them at the same emotional point when their energies are at the right levels. With Damian Lewis and Abigail Breslin (playing Kira), this didn’t always happen until about take 14. It’s very demanding on the actors to have to repeat three or four minute takes in environments over which I very often had little or no control.

You could be three minutes into a four minute take on what is take 12 and all of a sudden two buses arrive and a few hundred people get out and someone says. “hey, are you making a movie?” When this happens I don’t have anything and have to go back to zero again. The advantage was that it gave us so much energy. This hopefully really comes through in the film. I think that Damian Lewis really appreciated this approach because he comes from a theatre background and so he was able to try to find his performance within a whole scene as opposed to in the more disjointed and traditional way of shooting a few lines and then cutting.

JW: You allow the spectator to make up their own mind as to whether or not Keane really has got a daughter who has been abducted. Are you keen to avoid being an authoritative voice on the subject?

LK: I have to have a definitive point of view. I have to, otherwise I am being fake and not giving direction. But whenever I’ve met with people with mental illness and I’ve heard their stories I’m never 100% sure of whether they’re being accurate or not. I don’t think that they are deceitful or manipulative but fabrication is a symptom of mental illness. The audience is with Keane. They are with him in his life and as close to him as they can possibly get. They have to decide for themselves whether or not he had a child. They have to determine if they believe what he is saying. There is no standard objective response to a movie and so I feel that every audience response is valid. For myself, and Damian too, we find it more poignant to believe that he did have a daughter. I think that this is transmitted not through dialogue but through behaviour. When I see the patience and the care that Keane takes with Kira, I believe that Keane is a parent. In life things aren’t always definitive one way or another.

Jason Wood is a prolific writer, critic and programmer. He has published a number of books on the cinema and contributes regularly to Time Out, Sight and Sound and The Guardian.