Michael O’Sullivan takes a look at The Suffering Kind, a story about Michael Hannan, a sanitation worker in the town of Newburgh, upstate, New York, who, recently sober, is getting through the days as best he can.
Within the current cultural climate, a movie which employs Catholicism without condemnation and hostility is ensured to be immediately striking in this regard. The Suffering Kind is not a religious film but is invested in the fundamental elements a religion provides for a collective: hope and catharsis. Its opening recitation of Patrick Kavanagh’s “The Great Hunger” is appropriate given the theme. The poem’s examination of spiritual, emotional, and psychological starvation emanates through into the contemporary setting of the narrative and sets the tone perfectly for the story about to be told.
Michael Hannon, a garbage collector, attempts to get through the day, as anyone does. He remains affable despite an inner struggle to overcome a crippling alcoholism and drug addiction that numbed the pain of a past trauma involving a woman he loved. Michael receives support from a priest named Jim, who conceals his own struggles and anger, while helping people in the community have an ear they can talk to. And, as memories of the past resurface ever more frequently, the desire to return to a life of addiction becomes a greater temptation for Michael in his despair.
For a story threaded with such sincerity for the heavy thematic issues it concerns, it does so while avoiding the pretentious trappings that many films fall into exploring similar topics, thanks largely to the minute usage of film noir iconography. It makes sense considering the genre’s recounting of people who the American Dream never came to.
Following the excerpt from Kavanagh, a recording of Robert F. Kennedy talks of the American people’s need for education, housing, employment, and “giving young people some hope”, which is then proceeded by shots of the homeless, of 99c stores, and of beaten-up women walking the streets.
Jim delivers a sermon about toxic shame and its ability to make people consider themselves “a mistake.” The scene cuts before Jim can provide the cathartic moment a sermon is supposed to provide. In much the same way, the film’s excoriation of the American Dream is based on its failure to provide a necessary catharsis and hope to a social ennui.
Though little happens in the narrative, director Kevin Liddy wants our attention focussed on the mood of the film and to great success. The dolorous ambience becomes palpable thanks largely to the excellent music, provided by Rori Coleman, who utilizes the unique despondent sound of the violin and saxophone to great effect. Likewise, the cinematography by Declan Quinn, particularly in the shots of Michael’s deceased lover at sunset, capture the noir aesthetic and mood really well.
What flaws the film does have is in the rushed conclusion in its final sequence. The unearned happy ending implied by its closing moments is perhaps intentional (the repetition of Michael’s first lines when seen on camera suggests a cyclical pattern in his struggle between addiction and sobriety) but isn’t fleshed out enough to be made clear in this, otherwise, well-crafted and paced film.
The Suffering Kind screens at at 11:40pm February 15th 2016 as part of RTÉ’s short film programme Shortscreen