Director Kim Farrant’s latest feature, the psychological thriller Angel of Mine, starring Noomi Rapace, Yvonne Strahovski and Luke Evans, is in theaters through Lionsgate from August 30. Farrant’s debut film, the mystery drama Strangerland, starred Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Joseph Fiennes, premiered at Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury prize. Kim has a development deal with AMC for a one-hour television series titled Primal, and is in development to direct Julia Butterfly, written by Jon Felson, and Random written by Dylan Gary, with Noomi Rapace starring. Kim’s other directing work includes the action procedural Rush, the short films Between Me and Bombshell, and the television documentaries The Secret Side of Me and Out of the Saddle. Her first feature documentary, the critically acclaimed Naked on the Inside, sold globally.
You’re too much. Too intense. Too emotional. Too desperate. Too needy. Too sensitive. Too strong. Too loving. Too this. Too that. Just too fucking much! In my latest film, the psychological thriller Angel of Mine, beautifully penned by Luke Davies and David Regal, that’s the sentiment coming from all sides at Lizzie, a 38-year-old single mom in the wake of loss, played with ferocious abandon by the incredible Noomi Rapace. And that’s what I’ve felt most of my life, both on and off set. That I’m too much. That people can’t tolerate how deeply I feel and or how fully I express myself.
Driven by inconsolable pain and the primal urge to mother, Lizzie forms an obsession with the daughter of another woman, Claire (the amazing Yvonne Strahovski), and begins to stalk the little girl. Lizzie becomes convinced the child is her own and wrestles with her desire for it to be so and the insanity of thinking that could actually be possible. In the mania of her confusion, she will let nothing stop her. She is stranded on the ever-pounding shore of grief, and nothing can soothe her pain. I know this place all too well myself. I think we all do.
No one is immune to loss. Be it the loss of a loved one through separation or death. Or the loss of innocence, capability or freedom. Whatever its form, life doesn’t spare us from the gift of loss. It unravels us. That’s its function. To tear us wide open. To make us feel the depth of our love and the fragility of our humanity. In the crucible of loss, when the grief becomes too unbearable – or other people find our pain too much to be around – our defense mechanisms kick in. Fight, flight, freeze and surrender. Denial, part of the fight family, is a primary guardian. We refuse to accept the loss or fully let go. And/or we shut down. Go numb … freeze. Or, like animals in the wild, to fend off harm, we surrender, giving up on life or loving altogether. Or maybe we go into flight mode. To escape this desolate purgatory, we justify almost any behavior, distracting ourselves with booze, drugs, meds, food, work, sex – anything to numb the pain. Society promotes these compulsions with products to solve our every aching need, so we never need to be present with our suffering. Lizzie tries all of the aforementioned vices, but nothing helps, because these band-aids never allow for the grief to be fully felt, and therefore released and healed.
Everything that ever happens to us is stored in every cell of our being (which is why we have sense memories), so it’s no wonder that when we move our bodies – for instance, have sex – unprocessed feelings can surface. All the excruciating stuff we sweep under the carpet in our lives and in relationships plays out in the bedroom. And that’s why so many people avoid real intimacy and turn to fantasy on screens (that can never reject or judge you), or stop making love to their partner, or go outside of the relationship (where they can avoid being truly seen by someone who knows them well), or, most devastating of all, they close their hearts in fear of future severance. There is an incredible sex scene in Angel of Mine that examines this situation. Lizzie, consumed by grief, has an encounter with a relative stranger, and all the undigested pain from her past erupts during the sex. Noomi and Rob Collins (the lover) were so real and brave in honoring the underlying feelings their characters were going through (rather than it just being about the physical nature of the sex) and it’s hugely potent because of this. Riveting and hard to watch at the same time.
So why are we so averse to grief as a culture, to feeling it in ourselves or witnessing it in others? This simultaneously fascinates and hugely annoys me – perhaps because it triggers that old feeling that I’m too much because I feel things so deeply and am so sensitized to everything. We live in an increasingly monopolistic, superficial society that perceives happiness as the ultimate goal and has so little inclusion for the plethora of other feelings that are our birthright to experience whilst in a body and that naturally arise in the process of living. Anger, sadness, apathy, self-doubt, obsession, confusion – the list goes on. Our media sells us images of smiling pretty people with perfect skin and symmetrical slim bodies and saccharine romantic lives. Beyond the airbrushing, they seldom portray the shitshow that goes on behind closed doors, in the turbulence of relating. But people, especially our youth, measure themselves against these idyllic fantasies and consequently feel like they are failing. This is criminal.
We lack rituals in the West that formalize grief, validate its existence and support people in understanding that it is natural and healthy to feel sadness. Making a film that depicts someone in the clutches of grief is my way of normalizing it. Because that which is denied wreaks havoc. With Lizzie, her friends and family want her to move on from her loss, to get over it. But you don’t necessarily move past someone or something that you loved, you take them with you. As well as the feelings associated with them, which get triggered at random. Often. Most people hate the red-hot pain that loss leaves them with – feeling exposed, hurt, abandoned, alone, powerless, unworthy, unsafe, whatever it stirs in us – and underneath it all, the knowledge that life and death are inseparable and we can’t escape that. But if we can stop and stand in the furnace of grief, let it burn the pain in our heart, then its fire is actually quite stunning. There is something so exquisitely healing in the gut-wrenching tears, the rage at God, the infinite longing, and the humility of remembering the impermanence of everything. It can make us grateful for what we’ve had. “Let death be your friend,” as the Buddhists say. May its continual presence inspire you to open, each day, fully, in every moment.
Lizzie reflects the shadow of death hovering over us all. And she refuses to stay hidden. I love this about her. She’s right in everyone’s face, fully exposed in all her harrowing anguish and fury, and it’s this agony that galvanizes her mission. She mirrors everyone else’s buried grief, the feelings inside of them that are too much to stomach, and subsequently her parents, her ex-husband (played masterfully by Luke Evans), and even strangers like Claire – are unnerved, terrified and infuriated by her. In a moment of fraught desperation, Lizzie throws away her antidepressants, refusing to numb her feelings anymore and it’s this willingness to avail herself of all her senses that makes her so alive with the gamut of emotions pulsing through her system, even the madness that her obsession is plunging her into. This recklessness is the valve that ruptures from within when blinded by love’s call.
When I was in my early thirties, after I had been alone for a few years following a long-term relationship, I fell in love with a married man – a devout Catholic, no less – who had only ever been with his wife. He also fell madly in love with me, and although we never even kissed (crazy, heh?), he consumed my every waking thought. I would drive past his workplace just to catch a glimpse of him in the window and he would often be seen standing across the road from my job, just staring at me like a sad puppy. Consensual stalking, you might call it. Or thriving in a world of pain. Either way, it was completely crazy-making and both us of spun out of control. One morning when his dutiful wife was out, he invited me over for brunch at his house with his five-year-old daughter and I, possessed by desire, insanely said yes. It was delightful, like some weird happy family transplant, and then, of course, his little girl told her mother and our so-called innocent affair blew up in his face. Sexual or not, it was still a betrayal and so he cut contact with me. That hurt so profoundly, I felt like I’d lost a part of myself. But then a beautiful thing happened. The immense grief I felt showed me my yearning to love deeply and yet at the same time, how unwilling I was to be truly vulnerable, given I had chosen someone so unavailable. And so I had to learn how to love and accept my sensitivity. Not run from it or hide it from others. And that was a big turning point for me.
So, I definitely relate to Lizzie’s outlandish behavior and the intensity of her emotions. But it’s actually these flaws in others that we fall in love with, their most unfiltered selves. Angel of Mine pays homage to the brokenness in us all and our eternal ache for connection. My experience in life is that sometimes we have to be fully broken open in order to grow. To risk loving again. To find our will. Our courage. I was lucky enough to have three gutsy producers in Brian and Josh Etting and Su Armstrong, who all wholeheartedly supported my vision for the film and all its thrilling and savage intensity. Healing balm for the old, outdated “I’m too much” story I’d carried around for so long.
In today’s world, I think we have forgotten how to be present with each other, and ourselves. To be at the precipice of life, fully awake, available. We spend our days in the numb feedback loop of being on our phones or computers, rather than having face-to-face human interaction. We end relationships, lose jobs, futures, all in a text. But ripping off the mask of pleasantries and revealing the raw feelings and the animal instincts within is both beguiling and refreshing to behold. Angel of Mine does just that. It’s about two women battling it out like lionesses mauling each other over the one cub. It’s brutal, nerve-wracking, twisted and tender; ultimately, it’s an ode to love. How fiercely we love. The lengths we will go to keep love. And how loving another being so fully can make us feel so amazing and so vulnerable at the same time. Like our heart’s going to explode or we fear we will be left, abandoned, annihilated. And that can feel all too much. Like loving is too much. Like we’re too much. But we’re not. I’m not. You’re not. Love is not. Ultimately, it’s all there is.