Ulysses | Film
Ulysses | Film
Alan Gilsenan’s Ulysses | Film was specially commissioned by MoLI. It is a personal response to – and cinematic ‘reading’ of – James Joyce’s iconic novel. Fractured and poetic, reverent and irreverent, the film is a ragbag of sorts; a myriad of images and sounds emerging from the infinite wonders of Joyce’s imaginary world.
Structured around the eighteen episodes of the book, the film acts as a distillation of Ulysses, and may be viewed as a series of short films or as one long continuous piece. Watch the complete film below from 8pm on Bloomsday, 16 June, or watch each episode separately below.
Watch Alan Gilsenan in conversation with MoLI’s Director, Simon O’Connor.
Watch the complete Ulysses | Film.
In this opening episode, James Joyce’s literary alter-ego, Stephen Dedalus, spends the morning of 16 June staring across the Irish Sea from his tower-top perch in Sandycove, all the while reflecting on topics such as the state of Ireland’s cultural legacy, religion and his tumultuous friendship with medical student Buck Mulligan.
The second episode finds Stephen Dedalus teaching in a South Dublin school for boys. Dedalus engages his students in discussions on ancient history, classical philosophy and the works of John Milton. As the class breaks to play hockey, Stephen tutors a boy who reminds him of his younger self, leading him to ponder both his youth and his time in Paris as a student.
In this episode, Stephen walks along the shore as he contemplates issues such as the passage of time, limitations on the worldview of the individual and landscapes of memory. He has promised to meet Buck Mulligan for lunch at midday, however he cannot bring himself away from the seaside and his musings just yet…
In this episode, we meet Joyce’s protagonist Leopold Bloom as he potters around his kitchen and prepares breakfast for both his unimpressed wife and cat. We follow Bloom as he prepares for the day ahead and sets out on a quest in search of the perfect kidney for breakfast.
In this episode, as Bloom makes his way to church, he charts a voyage across Dublin that revels in the sensory delights of the city, including the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company alongside Sweny’s pharmacy on Lincoln Place, where he finds himself intoxicated by the alchemist’s many herbs, ointments and poultices.
In this episode, Bloom visits the city of the dead that is Glasnevin Cemetery as he attends the funeral of an old friend. Reflecting on the nature of death, Bloom notes that there are almost as many buried beneath Dublin as those still living in it.
In this episode, having made his way back into the city centre and the world of the living, Bloom visits the Freeman’s Journal newspaper office on O’Connell Street. As the tramcars, cabs and pedestrians bustle loudly outside, so, too, do headlines fly a mile a minute amidst the busy newsroom.
In this episode, Bloom traverses the river Liffey and makes his way toward Grafton Street as lunch-hour unfolds and Joyce’s everyman runs into an old flame. The trip down memory lane that ensues leads Bloom to reflect on other familiar faces from his past, his once blossoming romance with Molly and the cyclical nature of life overall.
In this episode, with Bloom having taken refuge in the National Library to avoid an encounter with Molly’s lover, Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan, we cross paths with Stephen Dedalus once again. Within the confines of the director’s office, Stephen attempts to offer up his own theory of Shakespeare’s Hamlet but worries if he will only ever be a student of literature and never its master.
In this episode, Joyce abandons both Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom for a short while, opting instead to dip and dive between a host of different characters. Father Conmee, Corny Kelleher, Ned Lambert and the inventor Tom Rochford are just a handful of names in a total of 19 characters that the narrative wanders between as the afternoon of 16 June rolls on.
In this episode, having spotted Boylan’s car on a nearby bridge, Bloom goes on to stalk and jealously survey his wife’s illicit lover as they both dine at the Ormond Hotel. As the episode progresses, and Boylan speeds off for his usual afternoon meeting with Molly, Bloom is tormented by the infidelity which plagues his marriage.
In this episode, unable to return home due to the habitual rendezvous of Molly and Boylan, Bloom enters a nearby pub. Alongside other topics, heated discussions on Irish mythology, nationalism, xenophobia and religion ensue amongst the tavern’s various patrons.
In this episode, as “the summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace”, Bloom travels to Sandymount Strand and encounters a young woman named Gerty MacDowell. Bound by a feeling of mutual intrigue, the pair watch and fantasize about each other from a distance.
This episode is set in the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street, where Bloom and Stephen Dedalus join a host of medical students. The topic of the hour is the agonising, three-day long labour of Mina Purefoy – an old acquaintance of Bloom. Throughout the chapter, discussions on sex, childbirth and religion are told through ever-changing styles of prose across history, suggesting that language itself is like a growing child in the womb.
In this episode, the sun sets over Dublin and the eve of 16 June gets off to a raucous start as Bloom, Stephen Dedalus and his companions make their way to the city’s red-light district, Nighttown. Whilst drunkenly navigating their way through the debauchery, Bloom strikes up a conversation with outspoken prostitute Zoe Higgins.
In this episode, having been abandoned by his friends, Bloom takes Stephen Dedalus under his wing as they head across town to sober up. The pair deliberate over topics from nationalism to domesticity. As two generations on parallel paths of life, they quickly develop a fondness for each other, but ultimately they cannot reconcile their views.
In this episode, Bloom’s voyage around Dublin finally comes to a close. As he returns home and settles for the night in his unhappy marriage bed, he and the reader are left to ponder a series of cold, detached and scientifically posed questions designed to track and dissect the breakdown of the relationship.
In this, the final episode of Joyce’s Ulysses, the allusive figure of Molly Bloom finally has her say. In the form of her famous soliloquy, Molly dances through memories of her life, past lovers, marriage and the question of whether we belong to a God-made universe itself.