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'It can happen because you're in the wrong place at the wrong time': A movie about 'good people' having an affair

Writer and director Mark O’Rowe’s latest film is the next chapter in a diverse and lauded career.

**Warning – This article contains spoilers for new movie The Delinquent Season as well as some of Mark O’Rowe’s earlier work**

Source: Element Pictures Distribution/YouTube

IN MARK O’ROWE’S new movie – The Delinquent Season – two middle-class couples navigate through a story of marital infidelity and the disintegration of close family relationships.

A lot of the story unfolds through what we don’t see. Early on, one of the characters, Yvonne, is hit by her husband. The audience doesn’t see the punch, just the aftermath.

Later, Yvonne’s husband – Chris – tells the other main character Jim that he has a terminal illness.

Again, we miss the reveal – the scene starts after the admission. Jim and Yvonne start having an affair, the camera cuts before the moment they start having sex.

The audience sees blood in a bathroom sink, but not it being coughed up.

The Delinquent Season was released in Irish cinemas this week. It is O’Rowe’s first time directing for screen and boasts an all-star cast.

Cillian Murphy and Catherine Walker play Jim and Yvonne respectively – the two characters who have the affair. Jim’s wife Danielle is played by Eva Birthistle, while Andrew Scott plays Yvonne’s partner Chris.

The movie is a tense, dialogue-heavy piece of work, and is at many points an exercise in restraint.

The characters speak plainly and simply, their innermost thoughts hidden from each other and from the audience. In that way, the movie is a logical follow on from acclaimed playwright and director O’Rowe’s most recent theatre work.

“It’s interesting all of that stuff we don’t see and all of the stuff that’s unsaid but that we kind of know is being said or we question,” O’Rowe told TheJournal.ie in a recent interview.

And that slightly comes out of my more recent theatre work as well where you kind of notice other stuff going on.

The Delinquent Season is a logical follow-on then from O’Rowe’s at times hyper-realistic play Our Few And Evil Days which premiered in the Abbey Theatre in October 2014.

We have a similar set up in this play: a middle class family (one this time) with secrets beneath the surface. Dialogue pregnant with hidden meaning. Dinner parties and pared-back conversations over glasses of wine, where what’s not being said is as important as what’s being said.

The comparisons can only go so far (Our Few and Evil Days takes a very dark, surreal turn near the end), but it’s easy to see a connecting line between both works.

“Say for example something like Our Few and Evil Days,” says O’Rowe.

“What holds the audience’s attention is that – I mean there’s a story and all that – but it’s all the mysteries happening from moment to moment that the audience keeps having to question and wonder about.

“So they’re never given a chance to kind of sit back. Because once they sit back your play is dead, do you know what I mean?

So it’s the idea of if you allow space for the audience to do some of the work it makes watching something like that be a more active experience.

This form of storytelling is also evident in O’Rowe’s latest play, The Approach. Described by the Irish Times as “an intricate puzzle of a play”, it follows three women who have alternating one-on-on conversations with each other.

So, too, do we see this controlled, simmering intensity evident in O’Rowe’s 2015 adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen classic Hedda Gabler, described by The Guardian as “a production that at times is so controlled that it becomes almost inert”.

It is easy to look at O’Rowe’s work then and see common theme or intent. A reserved, constrained formality – preoccupied with the minutiae of detail that makes up every day, middle class life.

But it wasn’t always like this.

Early work 

Anyone looking at the artistic output of Mark O’Rowe in the early years of his career would have been hard pushed to imagine a movie like the The Delinquent Season as his directorial debut.

Exploding onto the theatre scene in the late 1990s, O’Rowe’s breakthrough work was Howie the Rookie, a blistering, violent two-man monologue and dizzying trip through the ruined suburbs and seedy underworld of Dublin city.

Frenetic, relentless, visceral – the work caused a big stir when it premiered in 1999, and cemented O’Rowe’s position as one to watch.

He followed this with a a number of similar movies and a number of movie scripts – intense, energetic, relentless. Among them was 2003′s riotous Dublin movie, Intermission.

O’Rowe’s early work has had a big impact on the Irish theatre scene, with pieces like Howie the Rookie inspiring a wealth of pared-back linguistically vibrant plays from other artists.

(A revised one-man version of Howie the Rookie – directed by O’Rowe and starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor – premiered in 2013 to rave reviews)

This style of work culminated with 2007′s Terminus – a three-person narrative where each character speaks in intersecting monologues and a flowing verse. This was O’Rowe’s theatre directing debut.

It was a work not unlike O’Rowe’s previous plays, albeit with a far more surreal, supernatural feel – a psychotic serial killer who sold his soul; demons made of worms; blood; violence; anger; pathos; love.

After 2007′s Terminus, the next original play that O’Rowe would go on to stage was 2014′s Our Few and Evil Days.

Regarding the full milieu of his work, it’s hard sometimes to reconcile the work of this early period with his most recent offerings.

So what changed?

“Life. Ageing,” says O’Rowe.

“So if you go right back to Howie the Rookie. I’m a young man in my late 20s – madly influenced by James L Roy and kung fu movies and all that stuff that has violence and energy and wanting to kind of show the virtuosity I’m capable of and all that stuff.

And then you cut to your kind of early to mid-40s, going back to Our Few and Evil Days and your interests are different and you become slightly more fascinated by the life you’re living and the world that you’re living in.

With something like Terminus, O’Rowe says he feels he had taken that type of wild, theatre of spectacle to its logical end point.

“With Terminus I kind of went – that’s as far as I can take that type of play,” he says.

Demons flying around made of worms… I think I may have started to write something like that maybe afterwards and I thought, ‘It’s gone. I’ve no interest’.

Nowadays a fascination with “how you communicate with people and how they communicate with you” is what preoccupies him more.

“I got to the point where there was enough crazy exciting shit out there with Hollywood even, with action movies, with superhero movies, with theatre that was about spectacle,” he says.

“Then you live with them for a long time and you wonder, have I nothing else to offer that’s kind of about me?

“That feels like I’m not jumping on something else that other people are doing?

Because I can’t get there and nor do I want to and nor does the world need me to get there – because there’s so much of it anyway.

A puzzle of motive

In The Delinquent Season, O’Rowe doesn’t want to give the audience an easy way out. He doesn’t label someone the “bad guy” or the “good guy”. There’s no easy answers or apportioning of blame.

“We’re different. I wouldn’t quite consider Cillian’s (character) a dickhead, but what he did was wrong,” O’Rowe says in response to an assertion by TheJournal.ie that Murphy’s Jim felt as though he was emasculated, which inspired his affair.

“The idea that he was emasculated. There’s nothing in the film to tell you that. You’re trying to find a reason and that’s what I’m talking about the act of involvement,” he says.

“If I had created a scene where she had said something to him and he said ‘oh I’m emasculated’ that lets us all off the hook, cos we go A + B = C. I have not given an actual reason for that to have happened.

See that’s the thing – it’s the active thing of what’s going on because so little is being shown it’s like a puzzle, I suppose. A puzzle of motive.

O’Rowe wanted The Delinquent Season to be a movie about “good people” with “high moral values” who have an affair.

“It can happen because you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and you’re susceptible to and you just go with it when it’s presented in front of you – and that’s kind of what happens in this,” he says.

And so that’s not to say that you’re not 100% to blame but what it does is it opens up the possibility of it happening to any of us, I think.

A “puzzle of motive” is an apt way to describe O’Rowe himself and the art he creates and why he chooses to create it.

From demons made of worms flying through the Dublin skies, to quiet middle class couples laughing around the dinner table.

“There’s a little bit of a sense to telling these big fantastic stories of saying ‘oh look at me, look what I can do’ and I don’t need to do that anymore,” he says.

I’m older now I’m much more comfortable in myself and it’s much easier to write something about what really interests you rather than trying to figure out what other people want and give them that.

With all that said, The Delinquent Season does let loose occasionally with multiple scenes of close up sex between the two uncaring lovers and flashes of brutal violence also – so it’s it’s clear O’Rowe hasn’t completely moved on from his graphic roots.

So, with his directorial debut out of the way, the question is – what’s next?

“If you were going to say to me what’s next, what are you going to write next. Is it a play is it a movie, I don’t know… Is it a horrific thing? Is it about a relationship? I don’t know,” he says.

“I don’t have any ideas at the moment so that’s why I’m saying that. You just don’t know.

Sometimes, O’Rowe says, it takes a long time after something had ended to realise it has ended.

So when I said I had left things like Terminus behind, it probably wasn’t until a few years after that I realised I had.

“You just don’t really know and everything always makes complete sense in retrospect. But you can never see the kind of future you don’t know,” he says.

When I even say that to you – I hope a fucking idea comes to me soon that I can get. It’s not a great place to be in saying I don’t have one at the moment, you know?

If the last 20 years are anything to go by, it’s clear O’Rowe isn’t without an idea for too long.

About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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