Introduction: Political Situation in Narrative Films: Gripping Reality
Of all movie genres, documentary seem the least enthralling for the general audience; while it is hard to consider the events of the past as something to be cared about in present, the omnipotent narrator, who, as a rule, takes the hold of the plot, can be quite a nuisance.
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However, with the help of several peculiar approaches undertaken to view the events in Northern Ireland from a different perspective, Carol Reed and Neil Jordan actually managed to create three-dimensional characters that possess a certain romantic element.
Even in the light of the tragic events that tore Northern Ireland apart, one can still see that the documentaries offer their vision of what happened at that time with a glimmer of romanticism. With the help of a number of specific techniques, the movie directors manage to make the lead characters of the Odd Man Out and The Crying Game closer to the reader, helping the latter relate to the people depicted in both movies.
Using a number of various techniques, Carol Reed and Neil Jordan manage to convey the very essence of the romanticism in the Ireland at the very beginning of the XX century, in the thicket of riots, treachery and open fire. Analyzing the movies closer, one can possibly see a common pattern in the manner in which each of the movies depict their characters, as well as trace the key means which help the movie directors achieve the specific romantic effect that both movies are shot through with.
Documentary genre as a luckiest find for political movies
It goes without saying that documentary is a very specific genre to shoot movies in. While allowing to represent carefully the cadence of events that led to a certain situation or to tell someone’s biography in a very precise way, documentary still has its own laws of filmmaking which cannot be attributed to any other genre.
However, when it comes to depicting Ireland, while avoiding all possible clichés concerning the IRA and trying to overcome the numerous obstacles of mass prejudice against Ireland and its political situation, the documentary genre seems a perfect find.
In the given case, a documentary movie will allow to represent the facts about the IRA soldiers and the Irish population in general, at the same time carefully offering the viewer a vision of the situation other than the traditional one. Defining the global distribution of Irish people, heritage, and themes (McIlroy), the genre still offers a fresh and unbiased vision of Ireland, which makes it a perfect pick for a movie about Ireland.
According to McIlroy, there are very few books and movies that can accurately represent the political situation in Northern Ireland. Either containing graphic examples of violence which is commonly believed to be the key feature of the Irish ethnic group, or with a certain political idea pushed to the limits where it gets completely distorted, the movies about the political problems of Northern Ireland usually fall flat, with a few important exceptions. Among these exceptions, the Odd Man Out and The Crying Game must be mentioned.
Limitations and obstacles on the way to telling the truth
As it has been mentioned above, a documentary is by far not the easiest genre to create a movie in. Actually, it is rather hard to nail down what makes a documentary such a difficult genre to begin with.
Whether it is the fact that historical events are too hard to embrace, with all their factors, prerequisites and consequences, or merely people’s inability to tell what exactly happened without either praising or dragging through mud some of the most influential parties and political leaders, he fact is that a movie about real-life events is harder to shoot than the one with a plot that exists only in the head of the playwright.
When the Time Comes to Become the Odd One
In the Odd Man Out, the elements of the harsh reality of the XX-century Ireland are miraculously intertwined with the details which can be depicted as romantic realism. The above-mentioned does not mean that the movie attempts at sugar-coating the events which occurred in Ireland almost a century ago; however, there is an evident element of romantics in the movie, which makes the characters and the effect which the movie produces all the stronger.
Romanticizing the character: it is all about details
There are a million details that help create the impression of romantics in the movie; however, it is the cast that makes this impression complete. Writing unique characters from the movie, Reed managed to come as close to the idea of a romantic realism as no one ever has.
Taking the robbery scene, for example, one will necessarily note the specific manner in which the robbers entered the bank and how they addressed the people in the room. There were no shouting or fight; the robbers managed to control the crowd with the help of a sense of fear enhanced to the nth degree with their weirdly polite behavior.
Another detail that makes the audience see the characters of the movie as romantic ones concerns the dialogues. It is not easy to make movie characters speak like real people, and most movie directors know it. The major flaw of a typical movie characters is that (s)he always knows the right thing to say and can find the right way to express his/her feelings whatever happens around him.
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The given feature can be hardly considered a typical character trait of a real person; in most cases, irrational human beings are far from acting that calculating and high-flown.
However, in The Crying Game, neither of the characters seems in his/her place, and neither of them knows if they are actually right or if they do the right thing. With the help of that specific shadow of a doubt, Reed managed to convey the essence of the Irish romanticism, capturing it in a bottle. For instance, the following dialogue shows the state of losing one’s own self in a very clear way:
Dil: Ask to meet me again, Jimmy.
Fergus: Do you think that’s wise?
Dil: Nothing’s wise. (The Crying Game)
Thus, the romantic atmosphere is build.
What is hidden in the background: the settings
Among the rest of the details that help to convey the specific romantic atmosphere and contribute to the romantic effect that the character “on the run” produces, the settings take the second place.
While the characters themselves, with their specific features, are, naturally, the number one element that adds to the romantic effect, the settings are what creates the back-story and helps understand the characters’ motivations, which in the given case works for the advantage of the movie leads.
It is important that the settings in the movie can be considered as typically urban, which adds to the tension of the movie, making the audience plunge in a claustrophobic atmosphere of the Ireland of the early XX century.
Moreover, the above-mentioned urban claustrophobia works for the movie plot, revealing more of the character’s tragic situation: “On the run from the closing circle of the police, he wanders through the shadows of the city as evening draws in, reluctantly assisted by sundry eccentric people through chance encounters” (Pettitt 61).
Hence, it can be concluded that the details which are used for telling the background story can be regarded as the means to romanticize the characters in the movies as well.
Though the given means is rather restricted, since the movie does not have enough time to evolve both the plot and the characters’ backgrounds to the same extent, Carol Reed still manages to convey the same message of loneliness and despair that shines through the assumed optimism.
Hear the Gamer Cry: Raising Stakes as High as Possible
There can be no possible doubt that at its time, The Crying Game was the highest pitch of the movie-making industry; and, amazingly enough, it still holds up as a decent piece of documentary.
Though the movie at times might seem somewhat naïve and old-fashioned, with its specific stylistics that immediately sets the audience into the beginning of the XX century, the movie still manages to convey its key message about the pain that the Irish people had to go through to get where they actually were at the time. Taking an IRA soldier as the key character to focus on, the movie reminds considerably of the Odd Man Out, yet creates a completely different universe.
To start with, there is a strong emphasis on sexual relationships. The characters talk about relationships, discuss their preferences and ask about the details of someone’s personal life, which comes as a natural element of romanticized nonchalance. At times it seems that there are no boundaries either in the topics which they pick, or the language which they use to discuss these topics:
Deveroux: Does Pat have a tart?
Fergus: She’s not a tart.
Deveroux: No, of course not. She’s a lady.
Fergus: No, she’s not that either. (The Crying Game)
In The Crying Game, the stakes are as high as they can possibly get. Not only does the movie attempt at portraying the graphic details about the Irish soldiers with the eyes of one of the many, but also represents the shocking truth without tedious details. Relying on its own classy style, it reminds much of the gangster movies of the early U. S. cinema, yet develops a subtle idea of patriotism in addition to the twisted plot.
Reading between the lines: where the romantics is
It is quite peculiar that in The Crying Game, the details add to the romantic image of the characters even more than the actions of the latter or the plot.
The movie genre can be defined as film noir, which already sets the mood and adds a certain romantic tone to the characters and their life. In the movie where everything is stylized to fit the tragic events that occurred in Ireland at the beginning of the XX century, every single nuance is of huge importance.
Speaking of the movie plot, one must say that it is not very striking that the movie director decided to shed some light on the lives of the IRA soldiers; neither is the fact that these characters are the focus of the story very shocking. However, the reason why the movie failed to get a positive critical reception is the fact that it shows the IRA soldier in a sympathetic and even romantic way, as if trying to whitewash the years of blood-shedding and genocide:
What can be taken to be the film’s genuinely anti-homophobic gesture is therefore purchased at an unacceptable price. Jordan’s own account of The Crying Game’s humanism intimates the inadequacy of its realization: the film dramatized only Fergus’s accession to full humanity. (Handler 32)
The above-mentioned idea does seem legit; indeed, portraying an IRA soldier as a positive character can be considered a rather shocking and not quite adequate idea. However, neither Reed nor Neil attempt at depicting their characters as positive; Fergus, the IRA soldier in The Crying Game, as well as Johnny McQueen, are not the types that one can consider as positive ones.
The actors portray them not as the saving grace, but rather as real people, with their own set of prejudices and moral standards, with their strengths and weaknesses; thus, Reed and Neil rip the stereotypical “bad IRA soldier” of his inhumanity, showing the audience that there is a personality behind the camouflage.
The characters and the plot: the striking contrasts in action
It is quite striking that the characters owe a lot of other romantic features to the build-up of the plot, as well as its unusual twists. For example, the fact that the lead character has been bearing in mind all the facts about the woman whom he has been searching gives a lot of food for thoughts. Thinking of Dil all his way back to London, Jody has developed quite an intriguing picture of her, and so has the reader. In addition, the scene in which Dil sings adds to the romantic suspension even more, mainly because she sings about the pain of loving and not being loved.
Dil: Fergus. Fergus my love, light of my life.
Fergus: Please, Dil.
Dil: Can’t help it. You’re doing time for me. No greater love, as the man says. Wish you’d tell me why.
Fergus: As the man said, it’s in my nature. (The Crying Game)
Finally, the dramatic reveal that the film offers to the audience contributes to the romanticism of the characters considerably. Not only does it make the audience feel that the leading character has been left completely broken and baffled, but also leaves the audience on a cliff hanger, making then guess whatever is going to happen next. Thus, the romantic tension is created.
The Two Movies, Back to Back: Comparing the Romantic Effects
Though the analysis of each movie separately is quite important, the real showdown comes at the point where the two movies are compared, back to back, to reveal the reoccurring twists of the plot and the means which help to develop the romantic images of the leading cast.
The similarities: concerning character development
As it has been stated above, both movies belong to the documentary genre. However, there are far more similarities between them than that one; revolving around the events in the Ireland of the beginning of the XX century, the films are trying to convey the same message with the help of different media. Romanticizing the image of an IRA soldier and portraying the Irish struggle for independence in a much more appealing way than people are used to see it, both movies render the exact same idea.
The scenes of violence seem to be the most obvious connection between the tow movies. In The Crying Game, violence is evident, it leaks through every hole and fills the entire movie up: “Poke him with something. See if he’s still alive” (Neil).
The cold, calculating tone in which the characters speak to each other in this scene adds even ore to the dramatic effect – it is clear that they do not care whether their captive is breathing or not. On the contrary, in Odd Man Out, violence is never shown directly, but implied in the context of the movie.
The point at which Mason’s character starts hallucinating and sees the pictures around him as real people who are yelling at him, bringing back the memories of different people, is the closest that the movie ever gets to cruelty. Moreover, the latter is soon interrupted: “Have you ever heard of Father Tom?” (Reed).
The sharp contrast between the violence in the movies, either implied or obvious, and the despair that grips the lead characters, makes for a perfect foil for a romantic character development. As Hill noted, “The associations of the Irish violence have already enjoyed an extended career” (Hill 148).
The differences: where the major emphasis lies
However, the movies are also quite different from each other, despite the fact that both of them touch upon the same sore spot on the history of Northern Ireland. When it comes to building the romantic images of the character and adding a romantic flair to the entire environment of the Ireland of the XX century, certain details that make these movies not only different, but belonging to different universes and, therefore, aimed at completely different audience, will inevitably pop up.
When it comes to revealing the romantic elements in the characters of the movies, one will see that Odd Man Out actually suggests a much darker interpretation than The Crying Game. With the help of the setting, the nonchalant dialogues and the cool, laid-back attitude of the lead characters, the movie traps the audience in the atmosphere of despair and utter violence much better than The Crying Game.
While the latter is much more graphic and offers more disturbing visuals and more controversy, focusing on gender issues, implying even certain elements of homosexuality, the former is more subtle. Hence, the payoff in the case of the Odd Man Out is much more solid.
Another issue worth remarking concerns the subtlety of the key messages of the films. While one of the movies obviously resorts to all sorts of antics to appeal to the general public and make the message of the film concealed under a thick camouflage of the cadence of events, another one offers a deep character study and, therefore, blows its over completely.
Conclusion: Narrative Films and Their Bias. Reality Bites
When it comes to defining the romantic element in such movies as the Odd Man Out and The Crying Game, the task seems extremely complicated, mostly because of the fact that the given artworks can hardly be viewed as something with even the slightest element of romantics; called to interpret the harsh reality, making the audience view the latter completely undisclosed, with no disguise to hide its least appealing features under, documentary movies can be quite hard to digest.
However, when considering some of the elements in the given films better, one can see evidently that the leading characters in both movies are, as a matter of fact, worth being sympathized with and even being romanticized.
With the help of several details concerning the lead characters’ background, both movies managed to add a touch of romantics to each of the characters.
Moreover, the elements of romantics can be seen not only in the characters themselves; romantic details that make the audience see the movie characters in a completely different light are hidden in the lighting, the camera movement, the angles and even the montage. The script for both characters in question is worth mentioning too; as it has been stated above, each of the lines which the characters say add to their romantic background considerably.
Hence, the romantic effects that are used to make the gunman on the run even more desperate and, therefore, create even more tension than the story already has, are used with perfect timing and taste for documentary movies. Two of the most inspiring documentaries about Northern Ireland, both movies deserve being watched.
Handler, Kristin. “Sexing ‘The Crying Game’: Difference, Identity, Ethics.’ Film Quarterly 47.3 (1994): 31-42. Print.
Hill, John. “Images of Violence.” Cinema and Ireland. Ed. Kevin Rockett, John Hill and Luke Gibbons. Kent, UK: Croom Helm, Ltd. Print.
McIlroy, Brian. “Shooting to Kill: Filmmaking and the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies 11.1 (2002): 98-113. Print.
McIlroy, Brian. Genre and Cinema: Ireland and Transnationalism. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Print.
Pettitt, Lance. Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation. New York, NY: Manchester University Press. 2000. Print.
Rockett, Kevin, John Hill and Luke Gibbons. Cinema and Ireland. Kent, UK: Croom Helm, Ltd. Print.