Pilgrim Hill

“Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”

So speaks John Givings, the lucid schizophrenic of Revolutionary Road. Jimmy, the farmer we encounter in Pilgrim Hill, would meet with John’s approval. As the forlorn hero of the piece, he shows real guts. Jimmy doesn’t speak like a hero, he doesn’t act like a hero, he doesn’t undergo a heroic transformation of character. But he does face the reality of his existence like a hero, seeing the hopelessness around him with perfect clarity, and it is this brave acceptance of his situation that renders him painfully sympathetic.

The loneliness portrayed in Pilgrim Hill is of the oppressive yet unspectacular kind. It is omnipresent, like the grey mat of cloud that constantly coats the film’s landscape. Jimmy deals with his lot in the same way most of us deal with crap weather – stoically, wistfully, philosophically – but the film’s success lies in its subtle portrayal of solitude which, when coupled with Jimmy’s humble likability, gives an ache of sadness to proceedings.

Many will object to Pilgrim Hill on grimness grounds – dismissing it as just another chapter in the Irish anthology of misery – and there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a relentlessly bleak film. Jimmy speaks to an unmoving, unresponsive, close-up documentary-style camera – monologues about spending days without hearing another human voice, about his mother’s suicide, about his regret at not having children. He twitches, he coughs; constrained emotions occasionally dampen his eyes. Make no mistake – this is not a first date movie.

There is however, for the first part of the film at least, a vague sense of warmth in the rhythms of Jimmy’s daily chores. Writer-director Gerard Barrett eschews music for most of the film, allowing the audience to experience the sombre sound of isolation: ticking clocks, lowing cows, squelching mud, incongruously upbeat adverts on a battered TV set. It’s a peculiar type of comfort, but Jimmy’s commitment to his herd, his work, his unseen bedridden father, seems to provide him with a kind of framework, however unenviable.

For the film to then take this framework away seems unnecessarily cruel. But that is exactly what we must witness, and it is painful viewing. The tender pathos of the early scenes (Jimmy treating himself to some Jaffa cakes in the shop, or carefully shaving before a hopeful trip to the pub) gives way to something closer to despair, with Jimmy’s increasing isolation captured by some beautifully crafted cinematography. The film’s final minutes are an intensely moving achievement, as Bennett opts for a stylistic shift that slices through our emotional jugular with merciless precision.

Pilgrim Hill is a tough hundred minutes. It takes a certain amount of guts to sit through it, but those that do will be rewarded with that peculiar artistic ‘gift’ – a reminder of the terrible beauty of hopelessness. It is a testament to this young film maker’s ability that we accept such a melancholy offering with gratitude.

Gareth Thornton

  1. I’ll be looking out for this film. Thanks for sharing…

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: