The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael

The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

One of the staples of the Film Festival is the mock controversial "this will shock you" film with explicit sex and/or violence - the likes of Bruno Dumont's L'Humanite, Gaspar Noe's Seul Contre Tous and Irreversible, Catherine Breillat's Romance and Michael Haneke's Funny Games come to mind.

Now, whatever issues you may have with these films - personally I have issues with all of them - you can probably agree that they are honest, genuine works that have something to say. This, unfortunately, cannot be said of 2005's shock/horror/outrage entry, The Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael. The first feature by a 26-year-old filmmaker, Thomas Clay, it emerges as a profoundly dishonest work, talking loud but saying nothing new or profound.

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Set against the backdrop of a drab, declining seaside town and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it tells the story of an intelligent, if directionless, youth who falls under the influence of a bad sort and quickly graduates, Reefer Madness style, to Clockwork Orange-esque rape and ultraviolence.

Had the film functioned as something of a corrective to the idealised portrayals of working-class community found in the work of, say, Ken Loach or Shane Meadows, then fine.

But, instead, as the Reefer Madness and Clockwork Orange references indicate, it goes far too far the other way. The result is a sensationalist expose of youth gone wild beyond even Larry Clark's worst exploitative excesses. It's hard not to feel that this is intended to garner maximum tabloid column inches.

Any intellectual justification that may be offered - the violence of the protagonists is the inevitable reaction to the violence of the capitalist-imperialist system, yada yada - is impossible to take seriously. The message, if one can be drawn, emerges as something deeply conservative and reactionary, whereby some people are just born bad and the works of a De Sade - our protagonist's masturbatory fuel of choice - should be banned.

The Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael is a cynical, nasty piece of work that screams for your attention like a spoiled child. The best strategy is not to give it any. Maybe then Clay will go away, think about what he has done and come back with a film that puts his undoubted talent - there isn't much wrong with his direction - to better use.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2005
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The fall of an intelligent teenager into a life of ultraviolence and depravity.
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Jeff Robson **

Director: Thomas Clay

Writer: Thomas Clay, Joseph Lang

Starring: Rob Dixon, Danny Dyer, Michael Howe, Ami Instone, Stuart Laing, Lesley Manville, Charles Mnene, Daniel Spencer, Miranda Wilson, Ryan Winsley

Year: 2005

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2005

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