Cillian Murphy confesses all in pounding sound and blinding light

All of This Unreal Time review: He unleashes a torrent of regret in this intense film installation

Cillian Murphy, wearing a black hoodie and heavy coat, is projected on to a giant screen in Manchester's cavernous Central Hall. On a murky, sleepless night, he walks through city streets, confessing all that he is sorry for. Around us, the space is dark and thrumming, beams of blue light sweeping and blinding. The whole room is crackling. Grimy and electric, this new film installation, a collaboration between Murphy and the writer Max Porter, is exquisitely intense.

In dripping tunnels, car parks and abandoned roads, Murphy performs with a wide-eyed despair. His apologies are wide-ranging and told without self-pity. Some funny, some sad, they encompass the violence and failures of previous generations. Under torrential rain, his unnamed character’s words are spewing, purging, searching for a way out.

Porter's prose is recognisably strange and beautiful. His novels have played with the way sound works on the page. Here, you can feel the delight in writing to be read aloud. Working under Murphy's barrage of regrets and missed opportunities, the score by Jon Hopkins, Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner is sublime. With binaural layers of expansive piano and breathy synths, the loud, pummelling soundscape feels as if it's pushing its way inside you.

Aoife McArdle’s direction makes the most of the city’s varied landscapes, making frames from brutal concrete and lighting Murphy’s strides by the glare of chip shop windows. Each shot conveys the city’s loneliness. The words move from guilt owed to people, to the shame surrounding the natural world: the little ways we cause ruin.


Intense and all-encompassing, the piece never feels overdramatic or insincere. Its sense of despair is accompanied by a glorious, quiet celebration of the ordinary, the regular, the taken-for-granted. This man isn’t asking for forgiveness, but in the act of confession, something shifts. The sky goes from heavy black to murky yellow. The music and lights around us soften. The shots escape the boxed-in streets and find green open space.

Towards the end, as Murphy moves through a soggy field, boots squelching, a murmuration of birds swoops behind him. The sky lightens and his pacing stops. This is not just a film, but an exorcism. – Guardian

All of This Unreal Time is available to watch online, as part of Manchester International Festival