Nora Fingscheidt’s drama traces a damaged young woman’s rocky path toward wholeness against the windswept landscapes of her birthplace on Scotland’s Orkney Islands.
Saoirse Ronan puts herself through the physical and emotional wringer in The Outrun as a young Scottish woman repeatedly redefining her rock bottom before finally summoning the resolve to control her alcohol addiction.
Following System Crasher, about a traumatized girl with violent anger issues, and The Unforgivable, which cast Sandra Bullock as an ex-con struggling to regain her place in the world, German director Nora Fingscheidt’s third narrative feature continues her visceral explorations of the scarred female psyche. The drama is often punishing, but it’s punctuated throughout by beacons signaling the transcendent power of nature.
The film is adapted from the well-received memoir by Amy Liptrot, a native of Scotland’s wild and wind-battered Orkney Islands who wrote with candor about her alcoholism, grounding her account in contemplations of the natural world around her, from its science to its mythology.
Those side notes — covering everything from folkloric tales of seals coming ashore as humans to beachcomber found-object art, maritime history, bird migration paths and a legend about the monster that gave birth to the Northern Isles — give the story a discursive aspect. Various interludes embrace documentary, philosophy and poetry, employing means that range from archival footage and photographs to animation.
Having so many narrative detours is a bold stroke, even if it results in some imperfect metaphors, the extensive voiceover emphasizes the material’s literary origins and the extracurricular ruminations don’t always optimize the flow.
On the other hand, those deviations feed into a highly atmospheric sense of place, as well as laying the foundations for the communion with nature that will ultimately provide Ronan’s character, Rona, with a way forward.
Fingscheidt calls these seemingly random, sometimes scholarly thoughts, plucked from brainy biologist Rona’s restless mind, the story’s “nerd layer,” and they certainly enhance the texture of what might otherwise have been a downbeat slog to get to the optimistic outcome. The underwater images of seals are especially beautiful. To be completely honest, I often wonder who addiction dramas are for, besides actors looking for a gritty challenge, to shrug off vanity and get messy. It’s been a long time since films about the downward spiral of alcoholism, like Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend or Blake Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses, provided much in the way of raw shock.