Award-winning Canadian writer-director Heather Young debuts her feature film about how an aged woman leaves one addiction to succumb to another in Murmur. Young's film has received recognition as a TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Fipresci prize winner and is well on her way to be a rising female director.
The main character in Murmur is a woman over sixty. “It is important to me to tell the stories of older women and allow them to be complex, flawed and fully realized characters, the likes of which are rarely depicted in cinema,” says writer-director Heather Young. “Donna’s loneliness and addictive nature cause her to act in ways that are at times counterintuitive and destructive but ultimately she is looking for company -- and that is something that we can all relate to,” she adds.
Young continues, "In our patriarchal society older women are made to feel that they no longer have value; that they have become invisible and overlooked." She chooses to showcase her older female lead character in almost every frame of the film to acknowledge her existence. Young states, "I am stating that her story is worthwhile, and I am declaring that women can still be interesting and worthy of empathy later in life."
In a recent Question and Answer session after the film, Young is asked why is telling this story so important to you and why are you the best person to tell it?
Young explains, "When I was in my early twenties, I worked in an animal shelter in my hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick. Ever since that experience I have wanted to explore that environment cinematically. The oppressive roar of barking dogs echoing off empty walls, the repetitive drudgery of cleaning up after an endless flow of animals, and the heartbreak and hopelessness experienced when an animal you connected with doesn’t have a happy ending are all things I experienced at that job. The real, lived experience I had in this environment gave me a lot of authentic details to draw on when I was writing the script. Several years ago, this desire to film in an animal environment was renewed when I worked briefly in a doggy daycare. It was at this job that I met Shan MacDonald whom I ended up casting in the lead role of Murmur. Having worked with animals, animal lovers, and being a pet owner myself, gave me insight into the characters I was portraying and the environments I placed them in."
Young's stylistic storytelling is compellingly personal that invites the audience to feel the impact of loneliness and the reasons addictions are so comforting.
Donna (Shan MacDonald) is alcohol dependent and lonely. Donna knows this is not a healthy life and as she ages if changes aren't made, she knows that she could face dire consequences. As luck would have it (in an odd way) Donna is convicted of "Driving While Impaired" and is ordered to perform community service at the local animal shelter. Donna attempts to make a few changes that just might set her on a more positive life trajectory.
Donna's community service requires her to care for animals that are needy in a variety of ways. Not sure if she will be able to handle the intense amount of care the animals require, she gives it her best efforts. Her love for the animals as a caretaker brings meaning into her life. One would think that coming home to peace and quiet would be a nice respite for Donna but her empty house brings on the loneliness. She misses her new-found buddies.
Upon the knowledge of an elderly dog in the shelter scheduled to be euthanized, and she wonders if she might be able to save the dog if she cared for it at home. Donna takes the dog home and over time she discovers that her loneliness has eased with the help of the new companionship. Donna likes this life so much that she begins to bring more unwanted pets home until she is once again overwhelmed and finds her good graces have their own consequences.