Published Oct 06, 2011The title, Margaret, much like everything else in Kenneth Lonergan's long-awaited follow-up to You Can Count on Me, isn't a direct reference to a character or surface element. Rather it refers to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Spring and Fall, wherein Margaret represents an initial loss of innocence and grief. And since this is the sort of film where everything is representative of something else, boiling a specified incident down to universal humanist indicators, it's limited to a very specific audience: hated or arbitrarily reduced by those that disagree with the ideologue and dismissed by those unable to read basic allegorical text.
Said incident is a bus accident, wherein half-Jewish 17-year-old Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) playfully distracts bus driver Maretti (Mark Ruffalo), inadvertently leading him to run over stray pedestrian Monica Patterson (Allison Janney). Brushed with her first experience with worldly horror ― much like the contextually youthful United States after 9/11 ― she responds with shock and confusion, initially lying to the police about what happened then changing her tune to vengeance once the bus driver proves to be a dick.
Amidst this are an abundance of discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, as mirrored by the bus tragedy, along with an endless array of examples of human solipsism. It boils down to the inherent selfishness of people and limitations in consciousness that make it impossible for anyone to truly take into account the various signifiers and triggers that go into the actions of others. Characters express feigned empathy towards each other to get what they want, but respond with hostility when they don't get exactly what they want.
Many of the dialogue exchanges and impassioned performances are just short of brilliant, capturing the basic arbitrary vulgarity of human conflict and the absurd redundancy of debate. Constant classroom and household arguments ― in particular those between Lisa and mother Joan (J. Smith Cameron) ― reveal the petty and pointless nature of such endeavours, with people latching onto any possible word choice error or illogical reduction just for the sake of being "right."
As Lisa searches for closure to the injustice and unreasonable bus accident and aftermath, she learns mainly of a world where everyone has their own narrow agenda. She fights and screeches for things to be different, hoping desperately for some sort of compassion and reason, but continually comes up short.
Lonergan's film is a disturbingly astute depiction of the loss of innocence, as transposed onto an entire nation. It ropes in all avenues of human myopia, commenting on the nature of art criticism and our collective tendency to dismiss anything we don't understand, such as the yelling of "Brava" at an opera, which Joan suggests is pretentious. In doing so, it partially succumbs to its ambition, clearly suffering from the many edits and cuts necessary to trim it down to a two-hour-and-40-minute runtime.
And in the absence of seeing the original extended cut, which will surely fill in some blanks and flow better, from an editing standpoint, there is something profound and deeply affecting within this product that will stick with those willing to embrace the allegorical nature, ignoring the proposed histrionics about a mere bus accident. (Fox)