God’s Creatures is a film about why rapists are protected. Its creators wonder why distributors won’t take it | Movies

OWhatever water we are born in is the one we have to swim in. Most of us stay submerged and do what we can to just keep swimming, but sometimes we surface. And sometimes we drown. In the creatures of God we get to sink and soar through the waters of an Irish fishing village and its moment of reckoning.

This Irish gothic drama, released this Friday in the United States but still without a distributor in the United Kingdom or Ireland, tells the story of a mother (Emily Watson) lying to protect her son (Paul Mescal), and a community taking sides and breaking while a consequence. There is a tense beauty both in the routine of a working-class coastal town and in its immense potential to break the cycles of silence and violence.

Mescal plays Brian, a darkly charming immigrant returning home to revive his family’s oyster farm. His mother, Aileen, longed for her son to come home and his return blinded her to any flaws he might have. It’s only when he does something terrible that those fault lines start to crack and shatter everything. Brian is accused of sexually assaulting Sarah, played by Aisling Franciosi, a family friend and colleague of Aileen. Aileen lies instantly, almost instinctively, to give her an alibi.

How could she do that, or maybe, how couldn’t she? Almost to one person, the community silences and ostracizes Sarah. It is as if she, and not her rapist, had transgressed. And the blunt truth is that what Brian did wasn’t exactly transgressive. Sexual assaults are ubiquitous and rarely punished. The film isn’t based on a single real-life incident; How is it possible? There is too much.

God’s creatures do not preach or present simple ends. Instead, the film takes us below the surface to ask ourselves: why are we supporting systems that fail women? These issues are not unique to Ireland; they are horribly universal. It is telling that two Americans, Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, directed God’s Creatures. “When this script came to us, we were still angry at Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings,” Davis told me, specifically citing a letter written and signed by 65 women defending Kavanaugh the day after allegations he sexually assaulted a early adolescent. 1980s.

Directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer. Photo: A24

Emily Watson knows the futility of seeking justice in a world that works like ours, but that doesn’t stop her from questioning it. “If you’re a victim of sexual assault in the UK, there’s no point in going to the police because the system doesn’t favor you,” she tells me. “How is that true?”

Sexual assault statistics are notoriously difficult to collect and collate, but Rainn (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), America’s largest sexual violence organization, reports that in the United States, one woman in six is ​​raped by men in her lifetime. Out of 1,000 rapes, only 25 rapists risk a prison sentence. In other words, most men who sexually assault women are among us. They are our friends, our family, ourselves. There are no monsters in the sea, only people, just us.

God’s Creatures is a deeply physical film, not merely an intellectual examination. There’s blood and there’s guts, cracks and slaps, crows at the window, black branches against a deep blue sky. The rain does not stop and the tide never stops. But there is no rape scene. Instead, we see the longer view, the context – it helps us understand that the violence didn’t end on a pier in the middle of the night and didn’t start there either.

Paul Mescal told me that this perspective intrigued him. “The central idea of ​​the film isn’t the act, it’s the aftermath, and it’s the role that the community as a whole has, not only to facilitate the aftermath but also to facilitating behavior and toxic masculinity at its core.”

Paul Mescal in The Creatures of God.
Paul Mescal in The Creatures of God. Photography: Enda Bowe/A24

Aisling Franciosi has thought a lot about the repercussions of her character’s decision to go to the police and tell others in the community. She worked with a clinical psychologist to better understand how to portray Sarah and how to understand the community reaction. “When Sarah comes forward and says what happened, for them to accept that would mean completely reassessing their reality.” She continues, “So they just choose…not to. But a victim doesn’t have that choice. Sarah has been the victim of something horrible and her reality is shattered. But the distorted reality that everyone still chooses to live in? She doesn’t have access to it. »

The story originated with the film’s producer, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly. The daughter of a fisherman, she grew up in a small village on the Kerry coast, and her collaborator, screenwriter Shane Crowley, grew up a few miles away. Childhood friends, they were determined to tell stories of their origins, knowing that Irish playwrights and fiction writers had long understood the power of repressed drama in small town Ireland.

These filmmakers recognized the on-screen potential of the sea, the landscape and the language of place. Then the story found the place. “We were hearing too many stories of women from neighboring villages alleging sexual assault and then they were basically excommunicated from their communities. And we found it so amazing that these communities treat these women this way.

God’s Creatures is distributed in the US by A24 but has yet to find a distributor in Ireland and the UK, despite its star-studded cast receiving critical acclaim at Cannes earlier this year. Does she come up against this old obstinate silence of feminine experiences? Cronin O’Reilly, the producer, is worried. She said the whole process of making the movie was harder than most. She initiated the project more than 10 years ago. “The ironic thing is that the reason it took so long to do this is because of the subject and because women are at the helm.

Mescal is also frustrated. We spoke in New York the day after the film aired to a thrilled audience at Lincoln Center. “It’s anger. What film are Irish distributors waiting for? What’s the movie they’re waiting to say – now it is the movie we want to see about an examination of rape culture? I suppose there are other things at play, but it has to happen. I think it’s okay.”

Like every element of this film – from the misty mornings in the countryside to the echoing clap of oysters on the factory line – the questions the filmmakers ask us are hyper-intentional. Holmer told me, “For us, the best cinema lives in the conversations that happen afterwards. If we are above all artists, we also ask questions because we believe that change is possible. You have to live for this possible impossibility of change. Mescal is cautiously optimistic. “I think as a nation Irish people are slowly moving away from this repressed ‘don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t tell anyone’ thing. There’s a long way to go, but it’s how I feel.” Of course, this is bigger than Ireland and the specific mix of Catholicism, patriarchy and colonization that has created our own cycles of intergenerational violence.

Paul Mescal and Emily Watson attend the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Creatures of God screening.
Paul Mescal and Emily Watson attend the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Creatures of God screening. Photography: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Dr. Courtney Ahrens is a professor of psychology at California State University and studies the implications of speaking out on sexual assault, writing: “Rape victims who speak out about their experiences of assault are often punished for it. They are subject to negative feedback, even from support service providers. These negative reactions may thus serve a silencing function, leading some rape survivors to stop telling anyone about their experiences. She asks, “How then can we expect women to break the silence about the very experience being used to reinforce powerlessness? We can’t expect them to do that, but what’s amazing is that despite the often dismal consequences, they continue to do just that.

Women have been oppressed over time and across continents. What is striking is not only the violence, but the implacable resistance to this violence. Families in Uttar Pradesh are on the streets mourning two teenage sisters who were raped and murdered in the latest incident of sexual violence to rock India. They demand change. In cities across Iran, women are burning their headscarves and cutting their hair in protest at the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by morality police, who enforce the Islamic Republic’s misogynistic dress code. Here in the United States, a class action lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, which the bank tried to block from reaching the courts, is finally heading to a federal trial in New York.

Some people keep fighting against the power structures that we all live in. God’s creatures are part of this fight. A film like this reinforces those voices that dare to speak, filling the silence with something closer to the truth.