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The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

‘Arracht’ Review

Photo courtesy of IMDB
Photo courtesy of IMDB

Arracht, (Ah+Rokt) meaning “Monster” in Irish, is a 2019 film by Irish film director Tom Sullivan. 

With dialogue primarily in Irish, save for the few times the main character is speaking to the English Landlord, Arracht is set during the Great Hunger, starting at the very beginning of the Hunger. The story then jumps to the worst year of the Hunger, 1847, when a brutal winter further brutalized the already starving Irish. 

The film follows the story of the fictional character Colmán Sharkey (Kole+Man), played by Kerry native Dónall Ó Héalai (Doh+Null Oh Heel+ee), who gets blamed for the murder of the English landlord and his family. 

Colmán becomes something of a legend as he goes into hiding following the tragic deaths of his wife and son from illness and starvation, on the run from the law because of being blamed. The film is entirely in the Irish Language, short of a few scenes where Colmán and some companions who went with him to the landlord’s estate to discuss with him the conditions that are starting to affect the tenant farmers, particularly Rack Renting, including himself. When speaking with this landlord, the conversations are in English. 

It is beautiful in its silence, and beautiful in the way it uses music and sound to convey emotions and the inner turmoil of Colmán as he fights with ever-growing depression and starvation; it is not dialogue-heavy. As a fisherman, he is barely staying alive by harvesting Dulse, seaweed and taking a small boat out on the water with a handmade fishing line to catch the occasional fish. 

Just after the time skip when Colmán is now in hiding, there is a chilling scene where he, faced with the memories of his wife and children, ever looming starvation, and not knowing if things would ever get better, he ties heavy stones to himself and walks into the water, intent on drowning himself. The voice of his wife calls him. But, at the last minute, he backs out of it and resurfaces. 

The film takes a turn when a little girl, whom he remembered as being at the landlord’s house, is found by one of Colmán’s old neighbors. He ends up committing to care for the girl, who is now seriously ill and takes her back to his cave. This cave is also quite symbolic, as he had taken the bodies of his wife and son there to lay them to rest (so yes he is sleeping in the same cave where his late family is resting.) 

The girl, Kitty, becomes his purpose and reason to keep going and she becomes sort of like a daughter to him. The film ends with Kitty and Colmán in a boat together with a prayer being spoken, and the credits feature a little girl singing acapella in Irish.

Arracht is a powerful experience. I almost can’t entirely explain this film beyond just saying it is beautiful and haunting. It is an absolutely stunning piece of cinema and a genuine piece of art, while also accurately portraying the cruel conditions of the time in which the film is set. 

The Irish dialogue is accompanied by English subtitles. Having the film in Irish simply adds to the experience, though, and I deeply commend and applaud the team who worked on this film for having it primarily in Irish and using the language as a tool of storytelling. I highly recommend giving this film a watch and don’t worry if you don’t speak Irish. 

A quote from the film, translated into English: 

Kitty: “Why did this happen to us?” Colmán: “It didn’t happen to us, this was done to us.”

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