Made in 1997, ‘Gasman’ was director Lynne Ramsay’s third short film and arguably the one that gave her the most recognition, winning awards at both the Cannes Film Festival and the Scottish BAFTA’s. Since ‘Gasman’ Ramsey has gone on to make several feature films including her debut ‘Ratcatcher’, earning herself several awards and the credibility that she deserves.
Set in the late 70’s, the story behind ‘Gasman’ is one of adultery and deceit, with the father of a working-class Scottish family lying to his wife and children as he lives a double life that includes a mistress and their two children together. The film raises many controversial themes and issues, including sibling rivalry, lack of education, endemic poverty, unemployment, economic deprivation and social
disenfranchisement and alienation.
The beginning of the film sees a series of close-ups of individual members of the family getting ready for some sort of formal occasion, suggested by the smart clothing the characters are putting on. These close-ups are not of the characters faces; they are instead of various different parts of the body, for example, hands, arms and legs. The director has done this deliberately as she doesn’t want the audience to see the main character, as the audience will continue to watch until a main character is established. Ramsey is not following the three act structure at this stage in the film. Throughout this series of close-ups the diegetic music of the Christmas songs ‘Let It Snow’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ are also heard, hinting towards the time of year in which the film is set. These cheerful Christmas songs and the joyous time of year juxtapose with the sound of the family arguing and shouting at one another in the background.
In this beginning scene of the film there is also intertextuality, where we see the young girl click the heels of her black Mary Janes and say “There’s no place like home.” This particular moment and line is taken from ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and shows the girl’s innocence and vulnerability, it also hints towards the fact that something is going to change her view of home, therefore losing her child-like sense of innocence. The connotations of the girl’s black shoes compared to Dorothy’s red shoes also hints towards the idea that something is going to change this girl, with black having connotations of negativity and loss while red is linked to luck and love.
The issue of economic deprivation is also brought to the foreground in this opening scene with the lighting and mise-en-scene of the house showcasing this. The grim, grey lighting gives the house an almost decrepit feel and represents the harsh situation that the family are in. Character codes also hint at the family’s financial strain as the family talk to each other in an abrupt, aggressive fashion; however this could be due to the mother’s knowledge of her husband’s affair. Close-up shots of the father smoking and drinking also adds to the strain the family are feeling as the father is obviously nervous, he also exhales in these shots showing the struggle he is facing, either due to the families economic hardship or because he has two families to provide for, although at this point in the film the man’s other family is not known. The father’s weak, droning voice also suggests the struggle that he is facing.
The film continues with the children and the father leaving for what turns out to be the local pub’s Christmas party. We then see a panning shot of the mother’s face looking out at her family from the kitchen window. This shot shows the mother looking anxious and concerned, possibly because she knows that her children are about to meet their other siblings for the first time and she is concerned about what could happen. Following this, we see a wide shot of a bleak and miserable looking road with the girl and her father walking together and the boy trailing behind; this gives us the impression that the boy, being older than the girl, may have an idea to his dad’s other family and so resents him for that. The fact the boy also runs in the other direction from his sister and dad suggests that he wants to break free.
The next time we see the family they are walking along an abandoned railway line. The slow tracking shot of the family walking along the tracks is extremely significant with the neglected tracks stretching into the distance and giving a sense of infinity and hopelessness, insinuating that the family have no hope and will be in this situation forever. However the bright lighting used makes the family’s situation seem not so bad and gives the scene a positive edge.
The family continue to walk with the girl being picked up by her dad, when all of a sudden he puts the girl down and walks out of the frame. It’s at this point in the film that we meet the other family who we assume to be the man’s mistress and their two children. We immediately notice the children’s clothing, it is dirty and simple unlike the girl’s pretty yellow party dress. The state of the other children’s clothing is also pointed out when the young girl says to her brother “Look at the clothes they’re wearing, they look like tramps.” The simple, dirty clothing the children are wearing suggests economic hardship and how the father is unable to provide for both sets of children. While the comment made by the girl gives a sense of conflict between the other girl and herself, foreshadowing what is about to happen later on in the film. The theme of adultery is also brought to the attention of the audience when in reply to the girl’s comment her brother says “She looks like you”, communicating to the audience that they are actually related. The two boys are also of a similar age, as are the two girls, suggesting that the father was building both families at the same time.
We then witness a conversation taking place between the father and this other woman, portrayed through a series of close-ups. These shots give a sense of intimacy and show how close the man and woman are to each other. They also allow for the character codes to be read and interpreted by the audience, for example, we can see from the man’s eyes that he is stressed and under pressure but we can also see how much he loves this woman and wants to be with her. However it is fairly clear the woman feels nothing for him with the extreme close-up of the man touching her hair and her ignoring him do so showing her rejection towards him. The camera then cuts to a head and shoulders shot of the young girl’s face; she seems to be working out what’s just happened, thus beginning her loss of innocence. However she soon seems to forget about it running alongside her dad to resume her rightful place by his side.
The family then arrive at a run-down pub where the camera pans to follow the father to a table full of men drinking, taking us into a drinking culture where kids are forgotten about and therefore raising the issue of neglect with the audience. The issue of neglect is also presented through the following shot of the boy sitting in a chair that swamps him in the corner of the frame, with this portraying him as lonely, isolated and fragile. We then see the two girls dancing with each other; this lends a touch of dramatic irony to the text with the irony being their joy and the fact that they have no idea about their situation. The brown haired girl is later seen dancing with Father Christmas while the blonde haired girl is isolated and alone, this is representative of the two girl’s relationship with their father with the brown haired girl being close to her father and the other girl rarely seeing him. A wide shot of the blonde girl on her own is then shown, highlighting her isolation and alienation from everyone else in the room. This shot pans around the room and is handheld, conveying a sense of intoxication while showing the chaos that is going on in the room, also shown through the quick editorial pace. The blonde girl then goes over to sit on her father’s lap with the brown haired girl immediately noticing this and attempting to pull the girl off her dad’s lap saying “That’s my daddy” over and over again. The girls begin to fight with the quick cuts and editorial pace showing aggression and loss of control. The father then interrupts the girls fight, pulling them apart all the while searching for more beer and cigarettes, again raising the issue of neglect. The close-up of the empty cigarette packet and the man’s down expression is also symbolic, informing the audience that he has no comfort and there is no saving himself from the situation that he’s created.
The family then leave the pub, meeting the woman at the train tracks. The man and the woman don’t speak; instead they walk in opposite directions, the man with the brown haired girl and her brother and the woman with her two children. All of a sudden the brown haired girl runs back to the other family, picking up a stone as if to throw it at them, this stone symbolises hatred with the boy previously throwing a stone at his father, however for some reason she throws it on the floor. The lighting of the scene is now darker and bleaker with the train-tracks lit up by the moon, perhaps showing the two families hopeless fates.