Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

OSV News photo/Oscilloscope
Maya Hawke portrays Flannery O'Connor in the movie "Wildcat." The OSV News classification is A-III—adults. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association.


‘Wildcat’ a unique telling of Flannery O’Connor’s story 

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 21, 2024

ATLANTA — A scar-covered escaped convict stares down a cowering victim in the first minutes of “Wildcat.”  

Then a gunshot, violent and piercing, erupts from the imagination of Flannery O’Connor as she sits at a typewriter composing what would become “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”  

This isn’t a typical biography film lionizing one of the most celebrated Catholic authors of the 20th century. O’Connor holds pride of place among the Catholic writers and activists in the 1960s who rose to prominence, from monk Father Thomas Merton and peace activist Dorothy Day to draft-card-burning Father Dan Berrigan. Even after her death in 1964, honors continued to come in with a National Book Award for her collected stories  

The movie “Wildcat” is a father-daughter project, starring Maya Hawke as O’Connor. It’s written and directed by her father Ethan Hawke. The two of them took questions from the audience following a screening of the film at the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta on May 9.  

Sharing the screen is acclaimed actress Laura Linney, who recently played a leading role in “The Miracle Club,” about working-class women from Dublin traveling to the healing waters of Lourdes to seek a miracle.   

While O’Connor lived a life hard to describe on the big screen—born in an out-of-the-way city, leaves as she earns honors for her writing, returns home as she gets sick, no love interest, dies from the same disease that killed her father—this unique storytelling relies on Maya Hawke’s acting. Hawke convincingly plays multiple roles in the film, all drawn from O’Connor’s gritty, unexpected short stories. These stories shed light on life and faith, in ways both realistic and problematic. Linney plays the author’s mother, who does not always understand her daughter’s pursuits.  

The biography starts in New York City in 1950 with a rich show of Catholic iconography. O’Connor is pursuing a book contract but feeling ill, she sets out by train to return to her home in Milledgeville. She is diagnosed with lupus, that will kill her at the age of 39.  It’s at her home, with her celebrated peacocks, she finds literary success.  

O’Connor’s faith, ambition and desire to use her God-given talent is held in tension and conflict, drawing on famed stories like “Parker’s Back,” “Good Country People,” “Revelation” and others.  

The treatment of faith is respected here, not seeking easy answers to life’s troublesome questions. At one point, Maya Hawke, as O’Connor, states: “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” 

If you know O’Connor, her genre and the complexity her writing spotlights, then “Wildcat” is engaging. However, others unfamiliar with her works may find the film confusing to follow.  

Wildcat (Oscilloscope) 
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association. Running time: 1 hour 8 minutes. In theaters.