Cillian Murphy on Exploring the ‘Collective Trauma’ of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries in New Film ‘Small Things Like These’: ‘Art Can Be a Really Useful Balm’

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During the Berlin Film Festival press conference for his newest movie “Small Things Like These,” Cillian Murphy reflected on the “collective trauma” of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.

Based on the book of the same name by Claire Keegan, “Small Things Like These” focuses on the “horrific asylums run by Roman Catholic institutions from the 1820s until 1996, ostensibly to reform ‘fallen young women,’” according to its synopsis. The story is told through the eyes of Murphy’s devoted father and coal merchant Bill Furlong, who during Christmas 1985 discovers some “startling secrets” kept by his local convent.

“It was a collective trauma, particularly for people of a certain age, and I think that we’re still processing that,” Murphy said of the dark moment in Irish history. “I also think that art can be a really useful balm for that wound. The book certainly was a huge seller in Ireland, it seems like everybody read it. I think the sort of irony of the book is it’s a Christian man trying to do a Christian act in a dysfunctional Christian society. And it asks a lot of questions about complicity and silence and shame and all of those things, but I really don’t think the duty of art is to answer those questions, it’s to kind of provoke them.”

Also on hand for the press conference were producers Matt Damon and Alan Moloney, director Tim Mielants, screenwriter Enda Walsh and actors Eileen Walsh and Emily Watson.

When asked the challenges of making a political film in an industry full of superheroes and blockbusters, Damon said that movies like “Small Things Like These” are more important than ever.

“Our feeling is — and it will remain until we go broke — that making a good movie is really the antidote to any of these things,” said Damon, who produced the film alongside Ben Affleck. “Ultimately, it’s an exercise in trust with the people you’re working with and then trust with the audience. This film doesn’t pander to… you know, it’s asking the audience to care about cinema, and I believe that there’s enough of an audience in the world that still does.”

He added, “These are the kind of movies that when I started out and really started getting work in the ’90s, you would see movies like this all the time and it was just part of our culture and our lives. I’m really grateful to be able to bring a movie like this into theaters, and we’ll see what happens. But ultimately, it’s constantly in flux and we believe that it’s not dead, so we’re going to keep trying to make great movies like this.”

“Small Things Like These” will open the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday night and is competing for the prestigious Golden Bear.

Cillian Murphy on Exploring the ‘Collective Trauma’ of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries in New Film ‘Small Things Like These’: ‘Art Can Be a Really Useful Balm’

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