Rory Culkin has come a long way since playing a kid in a tinfoil hat in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs.
Culkin stars as the titular character in writer-director Lou Howe’s first feature Gabriel, which poignantly explores a subdued yet dangerous case of living with mental illness. We first meet Gabe, as he prefers to be called, on a lonely bus ride to an unknown college campus. He is on the search for Alice, a girlfriend from the recent past, only to find that she’s not living in the dorms, nor is she at her off-campus housing. Gabe’s persistence in finding her is mildly disturbing, almost stalker like, but it’s at the point when we’re just starting to get the creeps from this guy that we realize there’s something wrong; this kid is actually rather ill. Gabe was apparently supposed to hop the bus back home to his family, not set out on a lovelorn journey to reunite with an old flame.
Culkin’s performance in Howe’s debut is quite possibly the best of his career so far. He makes the character both tender and troubled. He apologizes to strangers for his weird behavior, and is genuinely appreciative of anyone in his path that has to put up with him; anyone except perhaps his family. Deirdre O’Connell as Gabriel’s mother Meredith practically embodies the term “patience is a virtue.” The actress is absolutely wonderful in the role; her serenity during Gabriel’s breakdowns coupled with her sternness in the aftermath is exactly how one hopes a mother of the mentally ill would behave. This authenticity is the most intriguing aspect of Gabriel’s family, which is rounded out by Gabriel’s older brother played by David Call, and his “Nonny,” played with sass and affection by Lynn Cohen. Where many films about mental illness would reveal a relative that might treat Gabriel with the very resentful bitterness that he expects, none of them resorts to the type of behavior that would fulfill his paranoia. It’s a heartbreaking reminder that those who suffer from mental illness often come from homes filled with love.
Howe’s script is a slow burn and Gabriel’s illness creeps up throughout the film. Where at the start he might seem like just another psycho-stalker boyfriend, by the time he is reunited with Alice (Emily Meade) our concern for Gabriel’s well-being extends from him to the people he might harm. Howe’s camera closely examines minuscule facts of life, the spinning blades of a ceiling fan for example, or wind blowing through bare branches, to offer insight into Gabriel’s off-medication mind. Tiny things that one would usually ignore are, for him, haunting memories from the past. But visual interests aside, Gabriel is really an actor’s vehicle, and Culkin confidently takes the wheel.
One element of the film that attempts to convince the viewer that there is still hope for Gabriel’s quest is its lovely score. Despite the gloominess of the subject matter, the story itself isn’t weighed down by somber musical cues. Instead, the motifs, dominated by string instruments, are simultaneously jovial and frantic, representative of Gabriel’s devotion to finding his long lost love.
This all makes Gabriel sound rather miserable and depressing, but Culkin’s fantastic performance also includes a handful of instances of humor, and the film on the whole evokes our pity for the character rather than feelings of utter hopelessness. Though the general reaction probably depends on one’s own experience with the mentally ill, and for some, Gabriel could very well resonate too close to home.
Complex got the chance to speak with Howe about the inspiration for his thought-provoking story, his collaboration with Rory Culkin, and what he wants his audience to take away from Gabriel.Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
What inspired the film?
The idea come out of my personal experience of having a friend’s first diagnosis of schizophrenia during his freshman year of college. I created Gabriel, as a character, without even realizing it, by trying to figure out his point of view of the world. But it was always this real instance of trying to understand the experience of someone with mental illness. And once I got the character, I got obsessed with him, typically, and it became something else.
How did that experience of witnessing people afflicted with mental illness inform you?
Well, both my own experience and also spending time with these members of the Fountain House, a community center for young people with mental illness, were eye-opening. Hearing their stories, and also having known the families of people with mental illness, there’s a lot to learn there. I thought there were common themes from a family’s perspective of loving this person and wanting to help them but being so frustrated and burdened by them and the friction between those feelings.
Also, I started thinking more about the trajectory of mental illness, especially early onset like this—the steps from being a fully functioning member of the community to ending up institutionalized. People react to those steps in a lot of interesting ways. Rumors go around, there are whispers, and people’s perception of them change. People with mental illness are often aware of being seen as “crazy,” and that becomes part of a struggle of in its own right. It becomes this added burden along with the stigma of the illness.
I read that you were journaling first-person as Gabe. What kinds of things would you write down?
They took the form of like, not therapy sessions, but as if Gabe had been given the assignment to write a journal by his therapist. His goal was to express his train of thought, and out of those came all the other characters—talking about his family, how his life compares to his friends. What was essential to him was the feeling of falling behind, of wanting to catch up with the normal, so to say.
You talked about catching up with what’s normal, is that what made you put Alice, this idea of true love, as his end goal?
Yeah, Gabe has pretty universal wants and needs. He wants a life he could be proud of and the feeling that he belongs. The idea that he could be inherently prevented from having that is really interesting to me and sort of tragic. Giving Gabe a very accessible goal made sense to me because the way that story is told, it takes a while to be sure of all the details about him, but once you get there, you see that he really is such a relatable soul.
Was it a challenge to make an inherently inaccessible character accessible?
I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. I prefer complex characters and I think a lot about the audience’s perception of a character. The idea that the audience could be off put by Gabe but, over the course of the movie, realize that they regret being that was exciting. I like it when the audience is challenged to think about why they’re reacting the way they are to a character. It’s sort of the same thing in books—this unreliable narrator. You’re questioning your guide through this world.
What made you cast Rory in the title role?
I’ve been a fan of Rory for a long time. You Can Count on Me is one of my favorite movie. But we met and he just really got the script. As soon as we started talking about the character and the way into the movie, I knew we were on the same page.
Is there a reason why Gabriel’s illness is never mentioned?
I didn’t want the audience to get bogged down in it. Rory and I did some research on mental illnesses, but in the process, the story became much more about Gabe specifically and trying to build his internal world as a person. It wasn’t about checking symptoms off the list.
That’s true, he doesn’t become just another example of something. He’s his own character.
Right, the story is all Gabe’s and the distance between how he sees himself and how the world sees him.
As the younger brother of actors Macaulay Culkin and Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin was never a stranger to Hollywood.
His first film role came at just 4 years old, when he appeared alongside Macaulay Culkin in “Richie Rich.” Since then, he’s cultivated an interesting list of projects, the latest of which is “Gabriel,” the story of a mentally ill teenager, which is set to premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
During a conversation about the film, Culkin talked with HuffPost Live’s Ricky Camilleri about his upbringing in a family of actors.
“I grew up in this family, so I was never really jaded by, ‘Oh my god, this is a movie script in my house.’ It’s just a story, and I may or may not like it,” he said.
But there was one downside to the ubiquitous presence of Hollywood in his home. “On the flip side, books weren’t very interesting, because [I thought], ‘This isn’t going to be made into a movie? That’s weird.’ I grew up reading scripts,” Culkin said
You can watch the interview here .
Thanks to The Wrap for releasing the first exclusive clip of Rory in Gabriel.
In this Tribeca Film Festival entrant, the youngest Culkin gives an electrifying performance as a disturbed teen. In 2002, Kieran Culkin played a troubled young man who heads to New York City and makes trouble in “Igby Goes Down.”Now, 12 years later, his younger brother Rory is taking a similar setup to a much darker extreme in “Gabriel,” a drama that is making its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The youngest Culkin gives an electrifying performance as a mentally ill teenager who leaves his treatment facility in search of past lives and loves that may no longer be available. Pushing and pulling with his mother (Deirdre O’Connell) and clean-cut brother (David Call), Culkin’s Gabriel is frenetic and unpredictable, sympathetic while also potentially dangerous. Written and directed by Lou Howe, the film is unblinking in its portrayal of a lost and ill teenager.
Rory Culkin has been confirmed for a brand new project directed by Derick Martini. This new film is a western, his character is Roy Carter and it’ll premiere in 2015. Here there is the storyline from imdb.com:
Post Civil War, a sharp shooting deputy goes after his fugitive father who is a wanted criminal but is pursued by a ruthless bounty hunter who happens to be his brother.
The theme of self-discovery is evident in all 12 of the films selected for the TFF 2014 World Narrative Competition.
The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, is pleased to announce the 12 films selected for the World Narrative Competition category. The theme of this year’s World Narrative Competition focuses on that ways that unique and powerful journeys of self-discovery resonate across international lines. Whether through large ensemble casts and multi-character structures, focused romantic relationships, or having real people play fictionalized versions of themselves, these films all portray characters going through intense moments of growth and self-realization—a collective experience. Films in this section compete in the following categories: Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, Best New Narrative Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.
These 12 features also reflect the universal power of film and storytelling that Tribeca celebrates in its competition. This year, Gabriel, written and directed by Lou Howe and starring Rory Culkin, will have the honor of opening the 2014 World Narrative Competition.
Gabriel. Directed and written by Lou Howe. (USA) – World Premiere
Rory Culkin delivers an electrifying performance as Gabriel, a vulnerable and confused teenager longing for stability and happiness. Convinced that reuniting with his old girlfriend will bring his dreams to fruition, Gabriel risks it all in a desperate and increasingly obsessive pursuit. First-time writer-director Lou Howe authentically portrays the heartbreaking reality of a young man battling his inner demons, establishing himself as an extraordinary new filmmaking talent.
Thanks to ioncinema.com we can see the first image of Rory in Gabriel, that will premiere in the 2014 Sundace Film Festival;
Looks like it isn’t only in professional hockey where the “Howe” family name will make huge strides. Featuring Rory Culkin and an indie ensemble cast I’ve loved in their respective breakout films in Emily Meade, Lynn Cohen, David Call, Alexia Rasmussen and Louisa Krause, Lou Howe’s debut film should rise like a soufflé to the top of the 2014 edition and this could be a seminal project in producer/brother Ben Howe’s earlier producing career. Casting was put into place in 2012 and production took place earlier in the year. Despite the darker slant of the material, this is ready to shine.
Gist: A young man searches obsessively for a girl from his past, convinced that she is the solution to his problems. Over the course of his journey, his perception of the world begins to slip away from reality. His family tries to prevent him from endangering himself, but he struggles to continue, growing desperate and erratic as he closes in.
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