The Irish have a fascination with ghosts and writer-director Conor McPherson has an idea about why.
"I have a theory about Ireland, being at the edge of Europe," says the playwright and filmmaker in a telephone interview. "For 1,000 years, people didn't know what was beyond. But we thought about it - a lot. And that 'beyond' became internalized in our psyche. And then Catholicism took hold - and it was a superstitious religion with ghostly imagery. There's something in our culture that makes us connect with that."
From that notion springs The Eclipse, the newest film by the author of such plays as Shining City and The Seafarer. The film, which opens in limited release today (3/26/10), is a romantic drama about a high-school woodworking teacher, Michael Farr (played by Ciaran Hinds), who works as a volunteer at the annual literary festival in his small Irish town of Cobh. But on the weekend of the festival, Michael, a widower with an ailing father-in-law, finds that he's seeing things - ghosts? spirits? - in his house and elsewhere, even as he finds himself caught up in an unexpected triangle involving two writers at the festival (Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle).
It's hardly McPherson's first foray into the supernatural - The Seafarer was about a man playing poker with the devil - nor was it his alone.
"The original story was a short story by a friend (writer Billy Roche)," McPherson says. "His story was set against the backdrop of the festival, with the teacher driving the writer around. She's been inveigled into coming by the other writer. And there was no supernatural element.
"It charts the hero's unraveling as he gets involved with the writer. But, in the story, he's married and has kids. My wife read an early draft and said women won't like him because he's married. I realized that, if he's a widower, he would be more sympathetic. And when I realized I could introduce strong supernatural elements, that's when I felt most comfortable."
Still, it takes a sympathetic leading man to carry the story - and a strong one to carry on in spite of the psychic phenomena he seems to be experiencing. Ciaran Hinds (who starred in the Broadway production of The Seafarer) was McPherson's first choice.