God’s Creatures Movie Interviews with Emily Watson, Directors

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For the second consecutive week, a film that follows the journey of a female protagonist awakening to the pervasive misogyny of its once-cherished world will land in theaters. But unlike don’t worry darlingSaela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer God’s Creatures is a moderate slow burn with no sci-fi angle (or drama around its production enough to eclipse the film itself). It takes place in an Irish coastal town where the local economy depends on fishing and where those who work in this field do not learn to swim so as not to be responsible for saving the life of a person in danger. Filmed in the small village of Teelin in the north of Ireland for nine weeks, God’s Creatures finds Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson) in a crisis when her prodigal son Brian (normal people‘s Paul Mescal) is charged with rape shortly after returning home after a long absence. Aileen rushes to her son’s defense, providing him with an alibi, only to slowly realize the implications of her complicity.

Davis said Shane Crowley’s script spoke particularly well when she and Holmer received it, in the days following Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 hearings.”sixty-five women attested to his character, his gentlemanly ways when they knew him,” she told Jezebel, in reference to a letter claiming that Kavanaugh “always treated women with decency and respect.”

“It was infuriating for us,” Davis recalled.

God’s Creatures | Official HD Trailer | A24

Watson compared the story, devised by Crowley and God’s Creatures producer Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, to a Greek tragedy. “It’s a very, very interesting dive into the subject of sexual assault and how the structures of a supposedly civilized and religious community can close ranks around an abuser and hang a victim dry,” said she told Jezebel. About her character, the actor said, “She’s like an animal. She is so attached to her son, but she is blinded by it. And when asked to give an alibi, she lies like an animal.

The victim in question is Sarah (The Nightingale‘s Aisling Franciosi), a woman from Brian’s past, who works under Aileen at the factory that processes the local catch. Aileen effectively abandons Sarah as a result of the accusation, choosing biological motherhood over the motherly relationship she has with Sarah. By focusing on the perceived duties of motherhood, she abandons the responsibility to women in general, and her existential crisis grows from there.

“Our focus in this movie is Aileen and her psychology, but Brian is responsible for his actions,” Holmer said. “There is no justice done. The law does not do justice for Sarah. The courts do not do justice. Her community accepts the silence and turns their backs on her. She is failing every step of the way. Aileen is the one of the failings to Sarah. We’re not saying Aileen’s failing to Sarah is any bigger, that’s just our specific focus in this movie.

Holmer likened broaching this dark topic to “putting on a heavy coat.” In describing the burden of heavy roles like his in God’s Creaturesand throughout his career since his Oscar-nominated debut in Lars von Trier’s 1996 film Break the waves, Watson said that troubled characters in shitty situations are his “bread and butter”. She said the process of playing such characters is akin to crying: “You have a physical feeling, and when it’s over, you feel different.”

“Your body registers it,” she continued. “Acting is like that. Even if the emotions don’t come from real things, they still flow through you. So you have to do the things you do in real life to let them go. It’s trauma therapy, you know? And then she said with a smile, “It all sounds like very pretentious nonsense.”

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Watson also described the uniqueness of the production being led by two women and a “gender-balanced crew”. Davis and Holmer previously collaborated on 2015’s Sections– they both worked on the story, while Holmer directed and Davis edited.

“It was very undemonstrative, very quiet,” Watson said of their directing style. “Everything was very relevant, everything had been very deeply thought through. Every member of the crew knew that when they asked for something very specific, it was very meaningful and everyone did it. You know, they had all these amazing, calm Irish men eating out of their hands. It was very quiet, respectful. It was like a dance. That’s not to say it was easy – the unpredictable nature of the sea meant that scenes shot at the oyster farm maintained by Brian and Aileen were particularly precarious. In contrast, Watson now knows how to gut a salmon.

One potential pitfall that Davis and Holmer avoided was to portray the aggression at the heart of the story. From the start, they knew that no such scene would be filmed. Davis explained that they did not want God’s Creatures look like a procedure. “We didn’t want to provide evidence for the viewer to like, try to make a decision, like he did or didn’t,” she said.

Holmer added: “For us, [Sarah’s] the word is enough. It takes a while for those in the movie to see it, but the movie’s point of view never calls that into question. Although we don’t represent the incident on screen, there is a deep sense of this violence in the bodies and minds of our characters. It does not stop at this simple act. Sarah is going to carry the weight of that night with her for possibly her entire life. This ghost is not leaving. But Aileen also has this ghost, and it persists.

However creatures screenwriter Crowley and producer O’Reilly are Irish, Davis and Holmer are both American, which makes the lived-in nature of their film all the more impressive. “We both have roots in documentary, and so in this space it’s all about observation,” Davis said. “Through observation, you find the details and you listen to the language, you meet the people, and I think you can understand a bit of the culture of the place, and then you do your best to reflect that to the screen.”

“For the work to work, it has to be personal,” Holmer said. “There is a cultural specificity in our film, of course, but it is never a question of chasing it. It is in fact a question of chasing the specificity and chasing the personal. And inside of that you create something that feels real.

For Watson, who was born in London, God’s Creatures is not just an indictment of patriarchy, but of a particular system it upholds. She cited a prayer Aileen says to herself at a climactic moment, when the choice she makes is ultimately prosocial but still, in the scheme of things, immoral. “It was a moment of surrender to God,” Watson said. “It is an abdication of responsibility, which Catholics [church provides]. He gives you absolution. It gives you permission to have no moral compass, really. If that’s how you choose to do it, you can exist in all of that and not make good choices, not be a good person in any way. And then after while, “I’m sure the church wouldn’t say that.”


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