THE OUTRUN. Scottish Detox [REVIEW]

The director of “The Outrun” could have toned down the segments that could be directly transferred to tourist brochures of the region.

Tomasz Raczkowski

27 February 2024

the outrun

I have the impression that the topic of alcoholism in cinema is quite slippery. In this sense, while it has received many cinematic interpretations, due to the visual nature of the language of cinema, it is easy to fall into exaggeration and the sensationalization of pathological images. However, the debate on addiction has somewhat shifted in recent times, focusing more on structural determinants and more prosaic manifestations rather than just suggestive extremes. Therefore, successive films addressing this topic can be seen somewhat as a corrective map in this trend of socially sensitive cinema, observing each position through the prism of its placement on a hypothetical scale, between a ‘sociological’ and a ‘pathological’ approach. The placement on this scale of the latest film starring Saoirse Ronan, premiered at the 2024 Berlinale, “The Outrun,” is not straightforward, but it also makes it a more interesting film for analysis.

Ronan portrays Rona, a young woman raised in the Orkney Islands, who returns to her hometown for rehab after her life in London takes a dramatic turn due to drinking. The narrative is multi-layered – we observe the girl’s journey to sobriety while simultaneously, through flashbacks, learning about her history and somewhat concurrently witnessing her descent into alcoholism. Another layer of the story is the observation of the micro-community of the Orkney Islands, which appear to Rona both as a sanctuary and a trap in relation to the dormant demons of her past. Nora Fingscheidt, the German author of the energetic “System Crasher,” attempts to sketch a multi-faceted portrait of addiction, simultaneously grasping its causes and sinking into the addiction, as well as its consequences and prospects for overcoming it.


The result is a multi-threaded, sometimes even chaotic story full of intertwining temporal planes. The director doesn’t always fully succeed in connecting the different layers of her narrative, especially evident in sequences dedicated to nature and the rugged landscape of northern Scotland, which seem somewhat artificially attached to the intimate psychological drama – perhaps for the purpose of promoting the region, which doesn’t particularly correspond to the film’s theme. At times, one can lose track of what “The Outrun” is about because so much time is spent on exploring the fauna and flora of the islands that the protagonist gets lost in it. Although Fingscheidt skillfully introduces metaphorical significance to the Orkney seals, she could have toned down the segments that could be directly transferred to tourist brochures of the region. This doesn’t serve the narrative, which repeatedly loses focus, and well-constructed dramatic arcs dissipate in the overall storytelling. On the other hand, the Orkney Islands provide both literal and metaphorical space for Rona’s story to resonate. The harsh island landscapes function as a solitary place for the main character, who may somewhat lose herself in them, escaping from the intensity and claustrophobia of the big city that fueled her addiction. However, this doesn’t entail idealizing the Scottish Ultima Thule, as the girl with colorful hair thrown into this scenery looks somewhat like a forced laborer, which evocatively brings out Ronan’s character, playing on the border of weariness and suppressed irritation. For Fingscheidt, outdoor sequences are an opportunity to slow down the narrative pace and quiet the film, thus avoiding overdramatization. When the director focuses on the protagonist’s alcohol problem, she relies on precise development of key plot points, shedding light on the character’s history and psychology. Fingscheidt manages to gradually extract these elements from flashbacks and side plots, thereby introducing suspense into the film. Unfortunately, these are subdued by the aforementioned excursions towards geographical contemplation.

Cliffs on the Orkney Islands Its not a frame from the movie but it could be

It’s worth noting that “The Outrun” is an adaptation of Amy Liptrot’s autobiographical novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay and consulted on the production. I’m not familiar with the original literary work, but I suspect that some of the aspects hindering the reception of “The Outrun” stem from there. In the film, it’s evident that the experience of staying on the archipelago is a significant component of Liptrot/Rona’s experience, but perhaps there was a lack of skill in conveying this cohesively in the film. The film was created in a specific authorial triangle of director Nora Fingscheidt, providing material Amy Liptrot, and portraying the main role for the first time in her career Saoirse Ronan, which may have resulted in cracks in “The Outrun’s” construction. Ronan gives her acting talent more than 100%, but the question arises as to how much she was able to take control of Liptrot’s personal story, which I suspect tends more towards a literary style of storytelling. On the other hand, Fingscheidt is a director prone to somewhat kitschy and not entirely synchronized with the theme and overall tone of the narrative moves, which is especially reflected in the ending of “The Outrun.” These are just speculations, but the creators emphasize their joint contribution to the final effect, so apart from appreciating what worked out, they can also be criticized for what didn’t fully come together.

“The Outrun” is an interesting and in some ways certainly an important film for reflections on addiction. It’s also a solid entry in Ronan’s filmography, and for Fingscheidt, perhaps her best feature film yet. However, it’s also a somewhat fractured project, broken by constructional shortcomings and a lack of cinematic discipline. The nuance in approaching the topic of alcoholism should be appreciated, although, similar to Smarzowski’s work, one might wonder if the creators occasionally overly indulge in the trope of drunken degradation. Nevertheless, there is greater potential here than what the film ultimately offers, which is why “The Outrun” cannot be defined as a fully realized project.

Tomasz Raczkowski

Tomasz Raczkowski

Anthropologist, critic, enthusiast of social cinema, British humor and horror films.

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