Beetleypete takes a look at the Lenny Abrahamson’s drama Garage as part of #begorrathon2015
I saw this film for the first time about five years ago. It stayed in my mind as I had never expected it to, and when I watched it again at the end of last year, I was equally moved by its simple yet poignant tale of a man in rural Ireland. Not that the setting is actually that important. It is a story as old as man, of prejudice, cruelty, and despair.
The cast manage to get a complete grasp of their characters, who are all somehow familiar to any of us, despite where we might live. In some ways, the rural Irish setting is important though, to understand the traditional values that still exist in some areas, and how life in a close-knit community can be stifling.
The story centres around the mundane life of Josie, (played by the marvellous Pat Shortt) who works in the small local garage. He has some learning difficulties, and is employed by the owner (John Keogh, a familiar face) to serve the petrol and oil, and do the everyday jobs around the place. He also lives there, in a small room at the rear, and we very quickly see that this is his entire world, and that he knows and understands little else. Josie’s life follows the same routine. He encounters his regular customers, and is visited by the owner. In between, he sits in a chair outside, watching the road.
After work, he wanders into the local town. On the way, we see him taking apples to a horse tied up in a nearby field. This sad animal seems to be his only friend, but he also seeks company with the regular drinkers in his local bar. They tease him, and take advantage of his disability, but he does find kindness to some degree from the local shopkeeper Carmel, (Ann-Marie Duff) who treats him well.
One day the owner arrives, along with David, (Conor Ryan) the son of his girlfriend. He tells Josie that he has hired the teenager to work part-time in the garage. As there is obviously not enough work for two people, we are left to presume that this has been done to help the boy get some money, or to please the owner’s partner. Josie enjoys having the company though, and shows David around, feeling good that he is now in charge.
He strikes up a friendship with David, and accompanies him to late-night drinking sessions with other local youngsters, alongside the railway tracks. Josie is happy to buy beer for them, and pleased to be accepted as part of their small circle. This gives him new confidence, and one night at the local bar, he asks Carmel to dance. She can see that he is attracted to her, but has to tell him that she can never feel the same way, showing another side of her nature. Shortt portrays this rejection perfectly, and his expressions and awkward movements tell us all we need to know. He develops his friendship with David, inviting him to stay for beers after work. The boy doesn’t make fun of him, and talks to him like a friend.
One of the regular customers, Dan (played with his usual cheekiness by George Costigan) is a long-distance lorry driver. On a return trip from Europe, he brings Josie a gift. It is a VHS tape of a pornographic film, something unknown to the innocent man. It seems to Josie that this is probably something done by most men, watching such films, and he sees nothing wrong in it. He watches it as he might watch a cartoon, and there is nothing salacious in his manner. One evening after work, he thinks that he might ingratiate himself further with David, and invites him into his back room, to drink beer, and watch the film. However, David becomes uncomfortable, and goes home, leaving the hapless Josie to wonder what he has said or done wrong.
When David returns to work, he declines to stay for beers after, and is met by his friend Declan, who is unkind to Josie, and openly sneers at him. It is obvious from this point, that the story has taken a much darker turn. The Police arrive the next day, and take Josie off for questioning. Declan has informed David’s mother about the film incident, and she has reported Josie for encouraging under-age boys to drink, and to watch pornography. The policeman interviewing him is kind, and realises what has actually gone on, but his hands are tied by the law. He informs the confused and scared Josie that he will be reprimanded for the offence, but no further charges will be brought against him. For Josie, it was all just something between men, a joke, a diversion, something to gain acceptance in the outside world. His true child-like character cannot deal with the events that have spiralled out of control. Back at home in his small room, Josie experiences the full realisation of the consequences of his actions, and Shortt plays the scene with restrained but intense emotion, as he hangs his head in complete despair.
The next day, the owner comes to the garage. He has a lot of sympathy for Josie, who he has known all his life. Deep down, he also realises that Josie meant no harm, but he also knows that things cannot go on in the same way. The small community will always judge this misunderstood man, and make his life there unbearable. He tells Josie that he will either have to close the garage, or that he will have to find other work elsewhere. This is all too much for the distraught Josie to take in. He cannot get to sleep, thoughts running through his head all night.
The next morning, he gets washed and dressed, wandering off to the nearby river. Sitting by the bank, he removes his shoes, and wades fully-dressed into the water. In the final scene, we see the horse that Josie befriended, now untied and free, wandering along towards the camera. Perhaps he freed it on his way to the water, or maybe it signifies the freedom that Josie found in his suicide.
This film also scores in the details. The small things around the garage, the atmosphere in the local pub, and the perfect playing of the rest of the cast in smaller roles. It echoes Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in the character of Josie, and tells of life in a rural community in a convincing and totally believable way. But it is Pat Shortt’s film. This actor, best known for comedy roles, and playing the fool, brings incredible subtlety to a role that so easily could have been overplayed. He portrays the character by acting in the best way possible. That of appearing not to be acting at all.
Pete Johnson 2015.