Franklyn is a 2008 fantasy drama written and directed by first-time filmmaker Gerald McMorrow. In an ambitious undertaking for a debut film, the story follows the lives of four individuals through two different realities; one in contemporary London, the other in the gothic, religiously fanatical Meanwhile City. Initially, the stories seem fractured and distant from one another, particularly the segments in the fantastical Meanwhile City. However, as the film progresses the threads of these stories begin to weave together one plot.
Eva Green’s character Emilia, battling depression and a rocky relationship with her mother, is working on a macabre art project in which she films herself attempting suicide. She meets a man after one such attempt that tells her that her suicide would not only be devastating for those she already knows, but also for those she has yet to meet.
Milo, played by Sam Riley, has just been jilted by his fiancé. He begins to see a woman around town he is sure is his childhood love, Sally. He comes face-to-face with her but it is obvious that she is not what she seems, as she has Emilia’s face. Milo’s mother tells him Sally was an imaginary friend he had created to comfort him after the death of his father.
Meanwhile, in the aptly, albeit rather obviously named Meanwhile City, we follow Ryan Phillippe’s character, the masked vigilante Jonathan Preest as he seeks to avenge the death of a young girl who died at the hands of a powerful religious sect, and its leader The Individual.
Lastly, Peter Esser (Bernard Hill) is in desperate search of his son David who has evidently escaped a veteran’s hospital after a violent episode. Following various clues, Peter charts David’s rampage through London in an attempt to find his troubled son. As characters Preest has menaced begin to appear in Peter’s search we start to understand that Preest is, in fact, David Esser experiencing a trauma-induced psychosis born from his military service and the untimely death of his sister.
These four stories begin to intersect as characters meet and relationships are revealed, but there is not necessarily a large payoff at the end. The way these four characters end their journeys is much less interesting than the themes that tied them together during the rest of the film.
Trauma or Loss
Each character in the film has experienced some kind of significant trauma or loss. At it’s root Franklyn explores the many varied ways in which a human can deal with trauma. Emilia channels her rage into art and constantly flirts with death. Milo creates a comfort for himself from his own mind. David concocts and entire world in his head, and Peter takes solace in his religion and steadfast belief that his trauma was part of God’s plan. The characters’ coping mechanisms almost encompass the entire spectrum of post-trauma possibilities. A human can deal with trauma by leaving life altogether, by projecting something from their mind into the world to keep them sane, by retreating into their own mind, or by attempting to ascribe meaning to the tragedy.
Franklyn is teeming with commentary on religion. The world in which Preest lives is ruled by religion. Preest claims all religion is simply a way for those in power to control the population. It is, therefore, mandatory to belong to a religion in order to live in Meanwhile City. Far from being fulfilling and reverent, though, the religions available in Meanwhile City are ridiculous, hollow, and needn’t be followed very closely, or for very long. Preest speaks to a woman whose religion is currently the Seventh Day Manicurists but she says she’s thinking of changing because they’ve almost run out of colors to paint her nails. It is one of only two deliberate jokes in the film, the other also being at the expense of a Meanwhile City religion based on washing machine instructions.
Preest claims to be the only atheist in Meanwhile City, though his name is an obvious allusion to ‘priest’, the ordained head of certain religious congregations. This can be read as Preest mocking religion, or possibly that he has created a de facto religion of one, with himself as the head. It is clear that Preest despises organized religion, but his belief that religious fanaticism lead to the death of the young girl he was meant to protect is a stronger and more powerful belief than anybody in Meanwhile City has about their actual religions.
Religion is also featured in Peter’s story. He says he is a religious man, and that he has accepted the death of his young daughter as part of God’s plan.
It’s unclear whether the film wishes to be an indictment of religion or a veneration of it. Meanwhile City seeks to turn religion into a hollow joke. However, Preest’s distain for religion turned him into a vengeful, hate-filled would-be murderer, while Peter’s steadfast faith made him a calm and accepting man, even in the face of the loss of a child. Frankly, Peter is the most sane of all the characters and also clearly the most religious.
The man that Emilia, Milo, and Peter all encounter has also been speculated by some to be a God-like figure. He pointedly writes in his notebook after interactions with each character as though he knows these people and is taking particular notice of what is happening to each of them. He is also seen at the end of the film sitting with the imaginary Sally, then making a mysterious disappearance. There is no doubt that he is meant to be some sort of supernatural force. However, considering his interactions with each character don’t amount to much, his significance is really unclear.
In terms of the movie’s production style, there are clear elements of the neo-noir style of film making, especially in Meanwhile City where dark, sweeping, stylized cathedrals make up the majority of the architecture, and the characters are dressed in a steampunk aesthetic.ne