The Outrun


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Outrun
"Distances of time and space are collapsible in Fingscheidt’s hands." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

There are plenty of directors who show off their style and verve but arguably we don’t celebrate those who take tricky subject matter and present it in a way that is artistic but also looks effortless. Nora Fingscheidt definitely deserves to receive plaudits in that regard as she immerses us immediately and completely in the headspace of Rona (Saorise Ronan), a recovering alcoholic, who has brought the memories of the past home with her from London to her family’s farm on the Orkney Islands as she tries to get her life back on track.

Based on the memoir by Amy Liptrott, who shares adaptation duties with Fingscheidt, this, just as most people’s recovery from alcoholism, is not a linear story, but one in which the traumas of the past intertwine with the challenges of the present. It rests on a performance from Ronan that moves seamlessly between Rona’s various emotional states - her character may rarely be grounded but we always know exactly where we are with her.

From the off we can almost smell the seaweed on the Orkney beach, a connection to the here and now and a memory from childhood, but distances of time and space are collapsible in Fingscheidt’s hands, one feeding into the other in Rona’s head. This malleability of thought gives the film an immediacy often lacking from addiction films, allowing the action to move from the reality of Rona’s life to her free-flowing thoughts about Orcadian myths like the stoor worm sea serpent and shape-shifting seal creatures the selkies, some of which are presented with immersive animation. Although there are some familiar beats here, including AA meetings and relapses, by presenting them in fragmentary fashion, Fingscheidt keeps us tightly bound to Rona’s emotional journey.

Alcoholism is presented in all its complexity. We can see the lure of escape it offers Rona in flashbacks to the life she shared with her boyfriend (Paapa Essiedu), hedonistic nights of abandon in pubs and clubs that frequently end in violence and loss of memory. Mornings of regret and apology are just another part of the destructive cycle. These things crash over one another with the energy of sea on rocks, the sight of which often triggers thoughts for Rona, now she has retreated to a place where temptation is less in her path. The Orkneys aren’t simply a haven, however, as they also hold childhood trauma surrounding her bipolar dad (Stephen Dillane) and devoutly religious mum (Saskia Reeves).

Nature is also complex on the Orkney islands. There’s a brutality to the sea and the weather patterns, which mean journeys cannot always be made when scheduled, but also a vulnerability to the animals found there, highlighted by a job Rona takes in a bid to locate and protect the endangered corncrake. Though the metaphor is never overstated, Rona too is subject to the changing patterns of her own nature and, through the course of the film she may not achieve anything so easy or trite as bending them to her will, but there’s a suggestion that learning to weather them will be enough.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2024
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After living life on the edge in London, Rona attempts to come to terms with her troubled past. She returns to the wild beauty of Scotland’s Orkney Islands - where she grew up - hoping to heal.

Director: Nora Fingscheidt

Writer: Nora Fingscheidt, Amy Liptrot, Daisy Lewis

Starring: Saskia Reeves, Saoirse Ronan, Paapa Essiedu, Stephen Dillane, Lauren Lyle, Izuka Hoyle, Naomi Wirthner, Nabil Elouahabi, Posy Sterling, Tony Hamilton-Croft, Seamus Dillane, Danyal Ismail, Scott Miller, Paul Kulik

Year: 2024

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: UK, Germany

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