I’m indifferent to Sinéad O’Connor. Growing up, I wasn’t and am still not religious. When O’Connor tore up the picture of pope John Paul II on SNL, I figured her actions were an overreaction, but certainly wasn’t offended like much of the country was. Being in a nonreligious household and still a very young child, I only remember Sinéad O’Connor for her controversy. Doing what films should do, there’s compassion for Sinéad O’Connor, typically not portrayed in the mob mentality-inspired media. But that’s not to say Sinéad comes off as a saint. Director Kathryn Ferguson displays a fully dimensional human being who isn’t perfect, who does make mistakes, but in the end, is a good person who just so happens to have a strong voice at the wrong time in history.
For those unaware of Sinéad O’Connor, O’Connor was an outspoken rock star who dominated the airwaves between the eighties and early nineties. To be transparent, I couldn’t name one of Sinéad O’Connor’s songs if you put a gun to my head. Luckily you don’t have to be a Sinéad O’Connor fan to like this movie. Nothing Compares is a hypnotic experience in the head of someone far beyond their time.
O’Connor’s hatred for the Church spurs from childhood trauma. The religious nature of Ireland spurred a neglectful upbringing for O’Connor, who was continually beaten physically and psychologically by the institution that’s supposed to promote love and understanding. Things weren’t much better at home, where O’Connor’s parents heavily ascribed to the Church’s treatment of children. Such abuse will probably form an angry person, as it did for Ms. O’Connor.
Sinéad O’Connor’s upbringing is represented through Terrence Malick-ian styled flashbacks where the lens features an extremely shallow depth of field, and the actor’s faces are hardly revealed, focussing much of the action on dreamlike cuts as if you’re living a piece of nostalgia with the joy removed. This is a style many documentaries have been featuring where you’ll hear an interview subject’s voice, but the film never cuts to their face. Instead, it uses wistful, metaphoric imagery to bring the audience into the subject’s state of mind. Intercutting with the dreamy flashbacks are unaltered clips from O’Connor’s music videos, and I have to say, Sinéad O’Connor has a hell of a voice.
By finding the power of music, Sinéad O’Connor discovered herself. Shaving her head wasn’t a Britney Spears-level meltdown but an assignation of identity. Many thought the head shave was a feminist statement when it wasn’t. It’s a decision based on a taste of style during a time when women were supposed to wear skirts and have long hair. Not that things have entirely changed since then, but we have made some minor improvements where bald can be beautiful, and the sexual abuse of children among the Church has come to light. Yet, we’re still behind since progress takes incremental baby steps.
Contrary to her popular volatile image, Nothing Compares shows the shy, reserved side of Sinéad O’Connor. Although she is outspoken, O’Connor has a kind, reserved style to herself that the public eye doesn’t get to see. That bashful part of Sinéad’s persona only lasted so long until the person we know came to light. When deciding to speak her mind, nobody accepted Sinéad. They mocked the shaved head and scoffed at her political statements as the ramblings of a spoiled celebrity. Post SNL, Sinéad discloses in her interview that everyone “kicked the shit out of me.”
As stylistically rich as Nothing Compares is, a part of the story seems to be missing. The picture leads up from Sinéad’s childhood to the SNL incident but ceases the narrative from there. What were the years between like for Sinéad after the SNL fallout? What happened to her relationships specifically? What work has she been doing since? All these questions are answered broadly. We get the idea that everyone betrayed Sinéad, but we don’t know how or why, which is where the real juice of the story could be.
The message Nothing Compares leaves behind regardless soars above my nitpick of wanting more. Sinéad O’Connor is a tragic irony. She’s a rockstar who’s told to stay quiet and be a good girl when finding her voice. For speaking out against the Catholic Church, Sinéad O’Conner’s career is crucified. Or so I thought.
The film ends on an unexpected sentimental note detailing Ms. O’Connor’s accolades since her SNL stunt. The ending is touching, if not unusually formulaic for a trippy documentary. O’Connor isn’t painted as a saint or sinner. Sinéad O’Connor can be contentious but rightfully so. She stands against the Church that molests children and condemns a woman’s right to choose. For her actions, she’s punished, but Sinéad pushes on. Whether you’re a fan of Sinéad O’Connor’s music or not, Nothing Else projects a beautiful, fascinating image of one’s self-reliance over mob mentality.