Orphans

When a loved one dies, social graces tend to dictate how grief is supposed to be expressed, a picture of dignified solemnity not unlike the opening shot of Orphans, which features four siblings hovering quietly over their mother's casket. But the surprise of Peter Mullan's audacious and wildly unpredictable film is that this image is the last time grief is reduced to a single face. Mullan, an actor best known for his searing performance as a recovering alcoholic in Ken Loach's My Name Is Joe, also refutes the assumption that all British working-class dramas have to wallow in unphotogenic misery. Though immensely moving at times, Orphans is infused with a healthy streak of absurdism that cuts through the pall and keeps the story's disparate subplots charged with tension. From the brief prologue, Mullan sends his protagonists out into the rainy Glasgow streets for a sleepless night before the funeral. After a brawl at a karaoke bar leaves mourner Douglas Henshall with a stab wound in the gut, they go their separate ways: Gary Lewis, determined to burden the full weight of his mother's death (which he does literally in one hilarious moment), keeps watch over her at the church; Henshall, bleeding profusely, concocts a harebrained scheme to get worker's comp for his injury; their youngest brother, Stephen McCole, buys a gun to avenge the stabbing; and handicapped sister Rosemarie Stevenson, stalled out in her wheelchair, is adopted by a little girl on her way to a surprise party. Sad, violent, whimsical, and strange—sometimes all four at once—Orphans presents an incredibly daring mishmash of emotions. Though its varied elements are not always successfully integrated, Mullan and his superb cast still treat death seriously while acknowledging a full range of human experience. For a film that counts a low-brow ejaculation gag among its more sordid pleasures, that's no small feat.

Filed Under: DVD

More DVD Review