The screen fades in on an overhead view of waves hitting rocks, putting you in the mind of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That first shot isn’t the only imagery that reminded me of a Shakespearean locale, but it definitely sets the mood perfectly for the tale that unfolds in The Sounding, both directed by and starring Catherine Eaton.
The quick synopsis is that a woman in Maine, after almost a lifetime of silence, decides to finally speak. That she only speaks in Shakespearean verse is part of what draws the audience in—the fact that she can find lines that still resonate outside of the original context and fit so perfectly with the thoughts she is having shows the resiliency of the language. Unfortunately for Olivia (Eaton), her life is thrown into turmoil when she is forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital to determine whether she is clinically sane.
The first half of the film shows Liv living with her grandfather Lionel, played by wonderful character actor Harris Yulin (our readers might know him as Quentin Travers, the head of the Watcher’s Council, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and interacting in her natural home with neighbors and friends. The film is dark, but warm. It seems to try and rely on natural light as much as possible in the first half of the film, which is in sharp contrast with the second half, after she is committed, which relies on harsh fluorescent lighting. The film practically screams at you to let her go home.
The main antagonist is Michael (Teddy Sears), who is trying to do what is right but can’t look outside of his rigid psychiatric world. A longtime friend of Lionel, he is brought into the film to provide a modern viewpoint. Overall his character works and does what he needs to do; there is one beat that didn’t quite sit right with me, but I was able to gloss over it because even though he has about the same amount of screen time as Liv, this is not his film, it is hers. And Catherine Eaton radiates warmth and inner fire in this role. As she explained in a Q&A after a screening at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), she has lived with this character for the past six years, bringing it up from a one-woman performance to a performance-art piece and stage show and finally getting it to the screen. It’s no wonder she feels so natural with that much time on the character.
While the plot does focus on the psychiatric arguments to determine Liv’s state, it’s a strong metaphor for what women have to go through in their daily lives, constantly being talked down to by men and made to feel lesser if they even try to think of a different way of viewing things. And while that metaphor is there, it definitely doesn’t beat you over the head so much as try to get you to see a different viewpoint. In this day and age we need that more than ever. Listen, understand, and relate. That is more important than whether she chooses to use Shakespeare or an entirely made-up language to engage the world.
This is definitely an art-house film. It is running the festival circuit now, and the verdict is still out as to whether it will get picked up for distribution. I hope so. This is Eaton’s first time in the director’s chair, and she certainly has an eye and grasp for it (I also want to acknowledge David Kruta as the Director of Photography); I genuinely want this film to succeed and to see what she gifts us with next. If this is her first film and she continues to grow as an artist, she could be the next Catherine Hardwick, or Kathryn Bigelow, or just the first Catherine Eaton. There’s one more showing at MSPIFF on Saturday, April 22, at 12:45 p.m. Tickets are still available. Otherwise, to keep track of the film you can visit the official website here.
The sound of the waves engulfing the rocks at the start of the film is an apt metaphor for Liv’s journey. Society might try pummeling her down, but even though they will consistently try to drown her, she’s still standing.