In “The Eclipse,” (no, not the Twilight movie) Ciaran Hinds is a middle-aged widower, father of two teenage children, woodshop teacher, and volunteer at his small Irish town’s literary festival. He is seeing ghosts, or something like ghosts, but they are perhaps the least of his problems. Or maybe they are a psychological manifestation of problems he’s buried. Either way, he’s got plenty on his plate.
Hinds is a fine actor usually cast in character roles; you’ll recognize him as soon as you see him, and wonder what else you’ve seen him in. He is big and sturdy, with a rugged face that portrays dignity and goodness—and occasionally menace, though that’s utterly absent here. He embodies this role with ease; it feels like it was written for him. Around him are two other fine actors we don’t see enough of in the States: Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle. They are authors attending the literary festival; Hinds is responsible for their transportation and general comfort. Quinn is a real ass, and certainly has fun playing one. There is a great little scene, almost wordless, in which he sends a bottle of win back at a restaurant that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about his character. He and Hjejle hooked up at another literary festival, and he is eager to – obsessed with, actually – reigniting that flame. She, not so much. He is a married man, after all, and, like I said, kind of an ass. She is much more interested in Hinds, perhaps because he is the exact opposite of Quinn – where Quinn is more than willing to cheat on his wife in pursuit of his own happiness, Hinds remains faithful to his dead wife, and hangs on to his grief lest he forget her.
Hinds is drawn to Hjejle because she writes ghost stories. He hopes she might be able to explain what’s happening to him, or at the very least, he might be able to talk about it with someone who won’t think he’s nuts. She is sympathetic, but unable to help – at least in any sort of exorcist/ghostbuster manner. But perhaps she is able to help after all.
The ghosts appear and are scary; they are ghoulish rubber mask types, a la “Drag Me to Hell” and they will make you jump and shriek. But this film doesn’t build to a tense and orgiastic third act; in fact, it’s far more concerned with the relationships between the living than between the living and the dead. One could argue, convincingly I think, that the ghosts are all in Hinds’ head, but it’s not spelled out that way. You’re free to see what you think is there.
And it’s set in Ireland after all, a land with a rich and remarkable obsession with ghosts, fairies, leprechauns, and other paranormal creatures. By the way, the cinematography here is terrific – the Irish Film Board helped finance this film and director Conor McPherson has made good on their investment; this Ireland, while eternally cloaked in clouds and mist, appears to be a gorgeous, mystical place. It is often said that the Irish accept the paranormal as part of their every day life – which makes it not paranormal at all. “The Eclipse” proceeds along those lines; the ghosts, while certainly frightening and dangerous, do not need to be exorcised. Maybe they can’t be exorcised. This film reaches its resolution through entirely natural means; peace is made with the ghosts in the same way it’s made with the dead. Which, really, makes sense, if you think about it.
Recommended if the idea of a “literary ghost story” appeals to you
Not Recommended if you’re looking for standard ghost/horror fare, filled with thrills and chills.