The title of Kenneth Lonergan’s film, Margaret (2012), is taken from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Spring and Fall.” Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) has an innocent involvement in the accidental death of a stranger killed by a careless bus driver. Her subsequent pain and guilt and anger effect in Lisa the kind of mourning for herself that arises in the Margaret of Hopkins’s poem (“It is Margaret you mourn for”), or so it seems to Lonergan, who both wrote and directed the film. A mere teenager, Lisa sees her life as though it were an “opera”, as one of her acquaintances puts it, and is actually turning people around her into “supporting players”–for her. Thus she becomes all but indifferent to her mother (J. Smith-Cameron). Thus she brazenly asks a boy at school with whom she has no relationship to take away her virginity, which he does. All this, I suppose, is integral to her self-mourning.
There are many things wrong with Margaret, mostly because of production problems which undermined the film when it was made a few years ago (but not released until 2012). Watching it, a spectator will say, “Boy, a lot of this must have been left on the cutting room floor!” Even so, the film is worth checking out: it is rich and intermittently fascinating. Intelligent too; patently it ain’t just the sex and nudity in the picture that Lonergan is interested in. Plus there is a moving epiphany at the end.
The best thing about the movie as it now exists is the acting. Paquin and Smith-Cameron give penetrating and energetic performances. Although I recoil at the character she plays–but then I recoil at Lisa too–Jeannie Berlin acts Lisa’s acquaintance Emily with gutsy prowess.
It’s quite a concept: the Margaret in Hopkins’s short poem becomes the Lisa in Lonergan’s long film.