Morning is a work of many hands.
Ruby is a lonely child. In a world almost entirely of her own imagining, she sees herself as the autumn star, Fomalhaut, known as the loneliest but brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere. Isolated in an unstable present, she is planning for a beautiful future mapped out from the pages of an Argos catalogue.
Ruby lives with her mum Jackie. Jackie drinks too much and in her unhappiness, self harms. Jackie deeply loves her daughter but her sense of failure causes an unstable and isolated existence for Ruby.
One night, Ruby is left alone in the house. She has a premonition about Jackie. The next morning Ruby finds Jackie dead on the sofa.
Ruby keeps her mother’s death a secret. She stays alone with her mother’s corpse, whilst trying to make sense of her new reality and place in the world. She gently attends to mother’s body, absorbing her absence. Ruby becomes familiar with death and she begins to understand it.
Interruptions from the outside world punctuate Ruby’s grieving in the form of two door-to-door evangelists, the elderly twin sisters Hope and Gloria, who try to convince Ruby about the existence of God.
Alone in the house, the men in Jackie’s life reappear, an encounter with one of them teaches Ruby about Jackie’s pain. For Ruby her mother’s death marks the beginning of her adulthood. A new star is rising.
Now completely unmoored, Ruby explores her new cosmos. She seeks friendship in Trainspotter a seventeen-year-old boy who spends his time watching the sunlight change and taking Polaroid photographs of passing trains.
For the first time, Ruby sees herself in someone else. She might have a chance of understanding him and of him understanding her. Ruby lets Trainspotter into her secret. Together they undress and redress Jackie’s deteriorating dead body. Trainspotter gives Ruby his camera. She takes photos of traces of Jackie’s life to remember her by. Ruby and Trainspotter embark on a friendship walking along parallel lines that will eventually meet in space.
Morning is a poetic narrative, both tender and brutal that is occasionally blown open by moments of magical realism that includes a journey through the cosmos, a surreal choreographed dance sequence and the beauty of developing Polaroids.
Morning creates its own particular universe in which you are drawn into Ruby’s experience with its sense of pain, isolation and grieving and yet also imagination, connection and beauty. Morning invites us to share the bitter sweetness of the moment you find yourself alone in the world and, within that, discovering the possibility of connection.
To me, thinking about death is hopeful. I am always amazed that death is the one thing that is certain in our lives, and yet we seldom talk about it. What you see in it is a reflection of yourself. Death can be a thing of beauty, transcendental and even poetic. Death teaches us about life. It’s an opportunity to find beauty and light in a dark moment.
Morning is not intended to be a ‘morbid’ film. I wanted to approach this universal subject in a concrete and vivid way — through the unique perspective of a twelve-year old girl faced with the sudden death of her mother. How to face that loss without glancing away, without hiding and maybe without even blinking? I wanted to do what music does, to tap into that capacity to be devastatingly sad and — at the exact same moment — incredibly beautiful.
Morning has an experimental edge, using surreal and theatrical elements in the service of its story: to create a particular universe in which you are drawn into Ruby’s experience with its sense of pain, isolation and grieving and yet also immersed in her imagination, perception of beauty and ability to connect. The surreal aspects came out of trying to be as real as I could be about emotions without getting caught in borrowing words or images that have represented those feelings before. The world being created was the manifestation of my imagination coming to life. There’s a delicacy to the vision, a specificity of human emotion, tentativeness, gesture, interaction and timing that I could only portray or capture on film. I didn’t want to feel as if words were holding me back, and if I could find a way to communicate without words I could get deeper into this other world.
I was hungry to tell this story in a fresh and more intricate way, interweaving elements from my theatre and performance art practices and exploring the side of creativity that is spiritual. I wanted also to investigate highly specific, minutely observed emotions with deep resonance, while testing the limits of what narrative cinema can be and do. I knew I could make a film that occupied an original narrative space – a personal and authentic vision that has flowed through all my work, whether it is film, performance art or theatre.
In ‘Morning’ everything is anchored in the characters and how they are feeling, no matter how strange or surreal the circumstances around them may become. By avoiding a traditional plot and narrative-driven story, I didn’t sacrifice emotion: I freed it to come out stronger, with more authenticity, power, and clarity. In this way, the characters’ inner lives are revealed beyond simple appearances and personalities.
The structure in some sense is simple, in that it takes place over the course of a short number of intense days. The stages of day and night punctuate the narrative alongside Jackie’s deteriorating body, creating a form that is at once easily recognizable, emotionally resonant, and universal.
Space and silence are also crucial elements in the storytelling. That we allow moments to unfold, sometimes in real time. That we allow the space. We can see the characters thawing, see things seeping beneath the skin.
Aesthetic approach: Sublime Realism
My ambition for ‘Morning’ is to mix magical realist elements and theatrical techniques along with a subtle, poetic style of storytelling to create a compelling film that is deeply affecting and filled with arresting images: a film of sublime realism that bravely creates its own particular, hopeful universe.
For me, seeing beauty is an awareness in the mind. It is a mental and emotional response. The key characters in Morning have this awareness. Beauty communicates itself to them, and they respond with emotion. It is in this way that they discover their direction and the truth about themselves. For m
e, beauty illustrates happiness: the wind in the trees, the glistening waves, the light in the curtains, they all speak of happiness. The clear blue sky illustrates a different kind of happiness, the soft dark night another. In ‘Morning’ there are an infinite number of different kinds of happiness.
I aim to create a wondrously strange and unconventional film that challenges audiences to think beyond the norms of expression, with a particular emphasis on how the minutia of everyday life can help foster an understanding of collective experience. Most of my videos, theatre work and performances have used abstract or slightly surrealist elements to convey emotional states. For example, choreographic movement pieces are important elements in Morning. Movements of bodies and objects can create ‘image worlds’ of great affective emotional resonance.
Morning is ultimately a story about connection. All of these techniques and approaches will be used to forge a connection with the audience, and perhaps to startle us — through beauty and empathy — into an awareness of the ways in which we are connected, and that connection itself might be
deeper and vaster than we thought. In this way, this story of a girl, her mother, her friend, and death, is both a very particular and a very universal story, and I hope that Morning can find its own web of connections within its audience so that it can radiate its message of humanism, optimism, tenderness, and hope.