Grief is an emotion that is almost impossible to articulate. Losing someone close to you is an unspeakably horrific event, an absence that creates an inescapable void.
In his new film, “The Eclipse,” Irish filmmaker Conor McPherson delves headfirst into this void in an attempt to bring back a piece of art, but his mission is doomed from the start; he’s a director who knows what he wants to say, but he never finds the right mode to say it.
The film stars Ciaran Hinds as Michael Farr, a widower who lives in a seaside town with his two children. As the town’s annual literary festival gets underway, Michael becomes close with Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), an English horror novelist being pursued by bestselling author Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) after a night of passion years ago. Michael’s relationships with Lena and his children become increasingly complicated as the ghost of his still-living father-in-law begins to haunt him.
If the premise seems a little complicated, it is. “The Eclipse” is a short movie (it’s only 88 minutes long) with a lot on its mind, and although McPherson does an apt job of exploring grief in its myriad manifestations, he struggles to weave those components together into a cohesive portrait. Part melodrama, part horror film, “The Eclipse” presents loss as two separate forces: the ethereal, relentless feeling of the void rendered through McPherson’s use of negative space and shadow, and the visceral, heart-stopping realization that someone is gone and never coming back. This is portrayed with significantly less tact in scenes that dip disappointingly into the territory of cheap horror thrills. It is possible to see the director’s pain, but he never articulates it with enough subtlety or touch to make you feel it.
But if McPherson’s vision is lacking, Mr. Hinds’ performance certainly isn’t. His gaze is full of bottomless anguish, and in the spaces between his lines, you can feel the cold, gaping absence that has engulfed his life. Although the supporting cast is adequate, they seem to melt away when in proximity to Hinds’ sorrow. His performance is complemented by the work of cinematographer Ivan McCullough, who conjures the beauty of the Irish countryside with a muted palette of soft blues, greens, and browns. McCullough’s sharp eye turns the copious darkness and shadow that abound throughout the film into an oppressive presence rather than simply empty space.
It’s a shame that “The Eclipse” will most likely make only modest profits at the box office; true, it oscillates awkwardly between being too loud and too quiet, and the plot could have been shaved down considerably, but all of that is subsumed by Hinds’ power as a performer. There’s simply too much here, but the sensitivity of Hinds’ artistry almost makes us forgive McPherson for his excesses. Almost.