Ethan Hawke explores the life and art of American author Flannery O’Connor — played by his own daughter, Maya Hawke — in his latest interrogation of the artist’s way.
There's always something intriguing rustling around in the projects Ethan Hawke chooses to direct, as anyone who saw his documentary Seymour: An Introduction (TIFF ’14) can attest. After Blaze and his recent documentary series about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Hawke's latest exploration of the artist's way focusses on a key period in the life of Flannery O’Connor, imagining the young writer as she perfects her process, committing to her unique and deeply personal fiction at the cost of her own comfort and contentment.
The O’Connor story allows Hawke to play with both text and texture, using the device of having his protagonist insert her own family into her fiction in a movie where he's cast his daughter Maya Hawke as that protagonist. And, of course, he's made a movie about a writer's process that spends little time on the actual labour of writing, because he knows the end result is the thing that matters. The thing that lasts.
Maya Hawke finds something similarly compelling in O’Connor’s skin, wrestling with the author’s bred-in-the-bone Catholicism and her enigmatic decision to abandon earthly temptations to embrace an ascetic life. The film feels like Ethan Hawke’s response to making Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, with its tormented protagonist struggling to understand God’s purpose. He even casts his co-star Philip Ettinger in a small but pivotal role here, alongside Laura Linney, Steve Zahn, Alessandro Nivola, and Cooper Hoffman. The result is an ambitious, aching inquiry into creation and sustenance from one of America’s most consistently enthralling talents.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: mature themes