The title of director Alexandra McGuinness’ feature debut Lotus Eaters is a reference to a story from Greek mythology about a group of people who ate nothing but the narcotic plant and simply ambled about in a state of stupefied ignorance. She uses that as a jumping-off point for her examination of several Irish twentysomethings who are idly passing the time by remaining elegantly wasted.
Antonia Campbell-Hughes stars as Alice -- a likely Lewis Carroll reference -- the least self-destructive member of a group of friends who spend their days taking drugs, sleeping with one another, partying, and gossiping. As the film opens she’s dating Charlie (Johnny Flynn), whose addiction to heroin is so severe he nods out in mid-conversation with her -- prompting Alice to break up with him.
Even though they are no longer a couple, they constantly end up at the same parties along with the rest of their circle, including the seemingly more mature Felix (Benn Northover) and his lover Orna (Cynthia Fortune Ryan), a string-puller who, being a few years older than the women surrounding her, plays the part of queen bee to the hilt -- she’s always quick with a cutting insult. As Alice tries to find a way out of this dead-end lifestyle, she’s romanced by other male friends, sees the emptiness of her female pals, and tries her hand at acting.
There is one flaw in how Alice is presented as a character: She’s too good. The movie’s moral center would hit home with greater force if Alice made more bad decisions. Instead, she seems to be reacting to those around her, vaguely aware that she needs to change but never quite sure how. We don’t see her giving into the excesses that her friends do, and by settling on that creative choice, McGuinness fails to make the film as compelling as it could have been.
Lotus Eaters does get your attention early on with its casual hedonism and slice-of-life tone. The movie sits in judgment of its characters’ actions, which is underscored by the straightforward black-and-white cinematography by Gareth Munden; there is a clear understanding that throwing up on your friends who are having sex is a bad thing. Yet it also shows sensitivity towards the more-innocent-seeming members of the group. Charlie becomes a nearly tragic figure after serenading Alice with a version of the Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was a Rodeo,” a scene that crystallizes how much his addiction has cost him.
Sadly, there’s a fatalism to the entire narrative that veers into outright melodramatic scolding in the movie’s final images. Early in Lotus Eaters, Alice gazes longingly at a girl riding a horse in a field, obviously jealous of such unencumbered youth and freedom. The film returns to that image for the final scene, and McGuinness utilizes the visual in order to stretch for a metaphor -- it’s a clunky way to resolve a movie as admirably clear-cut as Lotus Eaters is much of the time. This pretentious attempt to come up with a powerful ending will keep the film from being of much interest to people over 30, and underscores that Lotus Eaters works most effectively as a warning to twentysomethings; it’s essentially a more thoughtful Bret Easton Ellis story set in Ireland.
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- Released: 2011
- Rating: NR
- Review: The title of director Alexandra McGuinness’ feature debut Lotus Eaters is a reference to a story from Greek mythology about a group of people who ate nothing but the narcotic plant and simply ambled about in a state of stupefied ignorance. She uses that as… (more)