In Juniper (2021), written and directed by Matthew J Saville, Ruth (played by Charlotte Rampling) is a veteran war photographer who is aged now and has flown all the way from England to spend her last days with her son, Robert (played by Marton Csokas), in New Zealand. Robert’s son, Sam (played by George Ferrier), has been expelled from his boarding school recently, which he was sent to after the death of his mother in the recent past. In a twist of fate, Ruth is left in the company of Sam while Robert is away in England, and Sam must engage in caregiving for his ailing grandmother while secretly dealing with the grief of his mother’s death. Saville’s drama is too predictable to warn you about spoilers in the rest of this review.

One of Ruth and Sam’s first associations see them at loggerheads over a concoction of gin and water. In contrast, one of their last associations finds them dancing to a slow tune in the living room – this must tell you about the way the initially-dysfunctional relationship between Ruth and Sam take shape. It is less about the emotional journey of these characters or how they make it to this peaceful understanding and more about the insight into death, life, and everything in between that makes this a stirring drama.

Little needs to be told about the proficiency of Rampling as a seasoned actress. She helps add finesse to Ruth, an otherwise bitter and alcoholic, elderly, and disabled character. She initially appears to be frustrated at her disability and aging body while trying her best to balance it out with her spirited mind. Still, it is only later in the film that you start to sense her growing ease with the idea of mortality. The transition is clear when she initially asks a priest (who has come to bless her soul) to fuck off while willingly sitting through a mass with the priest in the later half of the film.


Her frankness for a woman her age is also impeccable. In one of my favorite bits of conversation from the film, when the doctor suggests she carry around a catheter, she poses a question about her sexual urges through a probable scenario where she meets a guy and shares a few drinks with him. The doctor is visibly in discomfort before he can bring himself to say that she must abstain from having sex.

Ruth reminded me of the feeling of courage to look death in its eyes that Dylan Thomas writes about in one of his most famous poems, Do Not Go Gentle into The Good Night. She visibly rages against the dying light when her nurse, Sarah (played by Edith Poor), applies some lip tint on her, and she looks into the mirror only to remark that she has still “got it” in herself. A small moment like this is parcelled in the screenplay to help the audience gauge Ruth’s zeal to her deathbed, an unquenching thirst for sunrises and alcoholic beverages. Rampling is believable as Ruth, or vice versa – it is difficult to fathom her mastery!

Ferrier plays the character of a grieving young adult, but there is little context to his feelings to help us empathize with him. Besides, his relationship with his father distinctly undergoes a shift. Still, so much time is spent centering the story around Ruth that these characters suffer from a stereotypical shrug of the shoulder by the end of Juniper. The relationship between Ruth and Sam, too, follows a sine curve that may come across as too random for us to get fully invested in right from the start. They both share a certain understanding of loss and suffering that bonds them emotionally.

Playing against the backdrop of rural New Zealand, featuring miles of uninhabited green fields and a few gorgeous sunrises, this 94 minutes-long drama presents us with a dysfunctional family chemistry with a solid emotional core. You must know that Juniper can leave you sniffling by its end, so ensure that you keep some tissue paper handy.

You need to watch Juniper in order to appreciate the performance of Charlotte Rampling, who shows us the potential of a star actor to command the audience’s sensibility with such grace and complexity. Saville proves that he is a compassionate storyteller in his first feature.

Also, Read: Significant Other (2022): Movie Review & Ending, Explained – Does Ruth manage to escape the hellish nightmare?

Juniper (2021) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Juniper (2021) Movie Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Marton Csokas, George Ferrier
Where to watch Juniper

Similar Posts