Scene It: mix tapes and Morvern Callar

For today’s entry, I consider two scenes from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar, her second feature and an adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1995 novel of same name. I wanted to see it for these reasons.
1. My friend Kevin’s birthday was last week, and as he studies Scottish media culture and hipped me to Ramsay when we were in school together, it seemed a fitting tribute.
2. My friend Curran thinks highly enough of this film and its titular protagonist that he named his cat after her.
3. The AV Club put this one in the New Cult Canon. In fact, they regarded lead actress Samantha Morton’s work here so much that they considered it one of the last decade’s best screen performances.
4. I haven’t seen Morton in much past a few music videos (ex: U2’s “Electrical Storm“) and movies I didn’t like (Minority Report) or felt torn about (Synecdoche, New York). But I like her and thinks she possesses one of the most interesting faces.

Samantha Morton as Morvern Callar; image courtesy of

As this is Ramsay’s sophomore feature, it is also the second movie of her’s that I’ve seen. I saw Ratcatcher, a surprising and assured debut about working-class Scots trying to endure 1973’s particularly hellish summer. It’s great and I highly recommend seeing it, along with reading Caitlin at Dark Room’s entry on it. But Morvern Callar meant more to me. I had little expectation or preconception going into this movie, but was left haunted and dazzled by it. A wonderful surprise.

Without giving too much away, the movie is about a young woman who is coping with her boyfriend James’s recent suicide. Clearly shellshocked but ambivalent about his death, Callar spends much of the movie figuring out how she feels and what she should do. The caliber of Morton’s performance is evident in how successfully she conveys much of Callar’s conflicting feelings without words. Callar disposes of the body, empties his bank account, and takes her co-worker friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) on a trip to Spain. She uses travel as an attempt to clear her head. She’s particularly haunted by two souvenirs James left her: a novel Callar successfully passes off as her own to an interested publishing house, and a mix tape he made for her called “Music For You.”

As we never meet the deceased James Gillespie and thus never learn of his motives, I’ll give the selfish fucker this: he put together a good mix tape. The movie boasts songs by Can, Stereolab, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and Broadcast, musical acts that could easily be on a young person’s mix tape (mine, for example). Yet we don’t know whose taste the mix is reflecting. They seem to be songs that reminded James of his relationship with Morvern, but we never learn who influenced who. As one of the last scenes in the movie shows Callar packing a bunch of CDs into a suitcase and leaving the apartment she presumably shared with James, I like to think they shared similar musical taste.

There are several scenes in the movie that show Callar listening to his mix tape. I have selected two particularly arresting ones that work wonderfully with the visuals. It might be easy to read these scenes as James serving as narrator through popular music, but the subjectivity is solely his girlfriend’s.

The first scene is Callar reporting to work at a non-descript supermarket. The accompanying music is Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning.” Shortly after this scene, Callar and her friend leave town.

The next scene is the last one in the movie, accompanied by The Mamas and the Papas’ poignant “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Callar is alone at a rave in some unnamed part of the world. She’s away from her hometown and presumably living on the novel’s advance. She’s alone, though I’m not convinced she’s lonely. Grief is complex, and may not feel like grief at times. However she might be feeling, she can always press rewind and play and start the tape back over again.


  1. Pingback: Mothering, Psychopathy, and We Need to Talk About Kevin | Dark Room

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