Three Monkeys Online

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Bloom: Filming James Joyce’s Ulysses

An interview with Director Sean Walsh
Mark Harkin

For most people, the idea of reading James Joyce’s Ulysses is an intimidating prospect. Film director, Sean Walsh, has gone one step further in adapting it to a two-hour movie. Bloom takes Joyce’s tome and converts it into a largely conventional drama, concentrating on the human aspects of the central characters’ life journeys, which are captured in this one-day snapshot. For the uninitiated and those for whom Joyce’s stylistic experiment simply isn’t worth the bother, Walsh’s film distils the essence of this enormous novel.

The act of simplifying such a fiendishly detailed work has the appearance of a nightmare. Walsh explains that his script was a long time coming: ‘I worked on the screenplay for about six years, and the film is the result of the process of working on that. What I did was, I read and re-read each chapter over and over again, extracting those parts of each chapter that appealed to me. Generally speaking, they would be the humorous items, the human elements. As a result of that, the screenplay reflects the humanity of Joyce and his humour.’

The humanity of Ulysses is finely caught by Stephen Rea as Leopold Bloom. His grief for his son, Rudy (who didn’t survive infancy), and for his father (who died by suicide), is etched all over him, from his beaten, downcast features to his tired, uncertain voice. Bloom’s grief for his son links up tidily in the film with Stephen Dedaelus’ coming to terms with his mother’s death. Most moving of all is Bloom’s attempt to catch up with Stephen after the latter’s drinking escapade with medical students: Stephen disappears around a corner, and for a moment, Bloom thinks he sees his son Rudy playing under gaslight, as he would have done had he lived. I put it to Walsh that this has a look of deliberate intent on his part as director. He disagrees:

‘A lot has been written about the connection between Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedaelus, about how their journeys cross over and are then united. I was less interested in that. What really appealed to me was what was happening to Leopold Bloom as a man, what was happening to Molly Bloom as a woman, and what was happening to Stephen Dedaelus as a young man. If there were connections there, fine, but I was more interested in the individual. If you take Leopold Bloom, the guy has seen it all: he’s had joy, he’s had sadness. He’s pragmatic: he knows you can’t change the world you live in; you just get on, and that’s what he does. Molly’s quite similar; I think there’s more similarity between Molly and Bloom than there is between Bloom and Stephen. Stephen, of course, being young, hasn’t been through it all; he has more torment because he hasn’t learned that pragmatism yet.’

This pragmatism of Mr and Mrs Bloom extends to the sexual realm, where both are seen to take their pleasure apart from one another: Leopold masturbates at the beach while checking out a frustrated young governess, while Molly receives the attentions of the virile (and somewhat one-dimensional) concert promoter, Blazes Boylan. In terms of casting, Molly seems a mismatch – in terms of physical attractiveness – with her husband. I put it to Sean Walsh that Angeline Ball is simply too good-looking for this role. Again, he disagrees:’I don’t know where it says in Ulysses that Molly Bloom was not good-looking, because she was; she was very attractive. Secondly, I don’t believe that Angeline is a Hollywood, model-type actress. The reason she got the job was very simple: she’s brilliant. She’s got great eyes, she’s got a great look, but most importantly, she has a natural rhythm that allows her to develop Molly’s soliloquy in the way that it should be delivered. There are very few people who can do that. If your criticism is aimed at Angeline, I refute it entirely.’

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