Snippets: Ethan Hawke’s Biopic about Flannery O’Connor

Brad Miner | June 12, 2024

In Wildcat, the recent film by Ethan Hawke based on the life and work of Flannery O’Connor, one hopes to see, you know, Flannery O’Connor’s life. But Mr. Hawke mostly gives us her writing instead – and only snippets at that – dramatizations from her novels or short stories that come across as scenes students might perform in classes at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City.

It’s mostly talk with little action.

Hawke might have given us more of Wildcat’s best scene in which Flannery (played by Maya Hawke, the director’s daughter) is surrounded by intellectuals, including poet Robert Lowell (Philip Ettinger) and writer Elizabeth Hardwick (Willa Fitzgerald). The subject of the Eucharist comes up and Hardwick inanely says it’s a lovely symbol, to which O’Connor replies, “If it’s a symbol, then the hell with it.” And she evangelizes the highbrows, eviscerating their dismissal of the Real Presence.

Innovative creativity is always risky, and Mr. Hawke has taken a big risk in choosing notto make a classic biopic. In Wildcat, a subtle mention of an O’Connor story title in a biographical scene morphs into a dramatic “excerpt” from the story itself, sometimes effectively, as in an interracial confrontation from “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” or less effectively in “Parker’s Back,” when Miss Hawke provides voiceover narration for the absentminded Parker’s tractor collision with a tree, which has the effect of being the audio equivalent of title cards in a silent movie.

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