“He believes in the future”
It’s amazing how different a film can feel when you put close to two decades behind your first viewing. When I watched Neil Jordan‘s The Crying Game as a teenager I did so to see what all the fuss was about. I already knew the “secret” and found it difficult to believe anyone couldn’t (in my defense, neither could Jaye Davidson‘s Dil inside the movie). But it was an intriguing tale just the same. The dynamic between captor (Stephen Rea‘s Fergus) and captive (Forest Whitaker‘s Jody) at the beginning captivated me fully despite comprehending none of the Irish Troubles ordeal’s nuance. Back then it was all merely a set up for Act Two’s elicit affair. Today I realized its political underpinnings are actually the film’s entire point.
This is the difference from it being a box office failure in the UK with its sympathetic portrait of an IRA agent at a time when innocents were dying as collateral damage in London cafés and it finding success stateside thanks to Miramax’s sure-win marketing campaign headlined with “Don’t tell your friends the secret.” Americans didn’t care about what Jordan was saying when he has Fergus, Jude (Miranda Richardson), and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar) kidnap Jody—a British soldier—as a bargaining chip to trade for one of their own operatives being held prisoner. They understood two sides were battling, but the setting of a forest retreat doesn’t put a face to the war. Those in the UK and Ireland, however, knew exactly what was happening between the lines.
Putting this history lesson upon the proceedings doesn’t just allow a terrorist sympathy—it reveals the humanity inherently within everyone. Soldiers make mistakes, force themselves into corners they cannot escape, and quickly discover how important chain of command and following orders proves. Because it isn’t as though Maguire and Jude have some bloodlust to kill Jody, they’re simply in the mindset of the fight and the fact that he’s their enemy. He may not seem it now being on-leave and having fun at a carnival removed from the frontlines, but a soldier knows that it comes down to a “me versus him” mentality. So you keep his face covered and remain silent. You dehumanize him into a pawn whose death becomes a statistic. He isn’t your friend.
Throw in a racial divide with the nationalist fracturing and you see why Jody’s there. He’s a man within a country that automatically hates him because of his skin color. He battles for the British because his upbringing possessed a level of compassion and equality Ireland never showed. Fergus knows this, but hearing it from Jody can’t help make him feel a tiny bit sorry. After all, his fight isn’t necessarily to kill the English. He wants to make his nation whole again. To a point he knows the major element separating them is religion—the Catholic-fueled IRA and the Protestant loyalists—but in his heart he volunteered for reasons beyond petty differences like appearance or church. So Fergus feels for Jody and hopes his gun remains silent.
There’s a mutual respect that builds and I remember loving Act One in my teens as a result. Whitaker is charming, polite, and funny. Rea is empathetic, hopeful, and ultimately naïve. I kept a shred of optimism that maybe it’d turn out okay back then, but knowing the volatility of the conflict today and re-experiencing the passionate rage of Maguire and Jude makes me wonder how I ever could have believed life would somehow find a way forward. And even though the inevitable chapter close unfolds in a not so inevitable way, its random shock to the system only makes matters worse by showing how there are no good guys or bad. The IRA and INLA both shoot first and neither bother asking questions later.
It’s the perfect end to a complex situation—a short film that stands on its own. By contrast, the second half hinges on Fergus meeting Jody simply because the former travels to London with the goal of making good on a promise to check in on the Brit’s true love Dil. Don’t think The Crying Game changes gears completely by transitioning from psychological war thriller to romantic tryst possessing a hidden secret; the relationship cultivated between Fergus and Dil is much more complicated than that. Instead we’re supplied a fresh start and continuation, the latter reaching back much deeper into the forest confrontation than mere words shared between men. This is the unfiltered casualty of war: bullets, espionage, and murder finding their way onto civilian streets.
Just like before, however, there’s more beneath that surface. Where Jody’s involvement introduced a racial divide, this one delivers a sexual one. Suddenly Jordan has brought in yet another taboo alongside nationality and religion to create characters that we care about no matter who they are or what makes them unique individuals. This war for land becomes a ubiquitous blight bringing in all kinds of people whether overtly involved or not—nobody’s spared because no sector of either country is off-limits to terror attacks. Collateral damage spills forth from physical deaths into emotional ones. Once you begin to effect innocents you end up creating militants. If our nature is to express an eye-for-an-eye mentality, we must suffer the consequences when it’s turned in our direction.
Fergus becomes our stand-in—an idealist fighting for a just cause in over his head as far as the scope of his mission. It’s easy to fight when you don’t know whom it is you’re killing. He no longer has that luxury because he allowed Jody to enter his heart. Guilt and regret replace the blackness of pride Fergus once held there and if he wasn’t aware of how easy it was to fall into a position of being he disgusted, he soon is. By falling for Dil he opens his heart to something his mind never would have allowed had he known all the facts. His heart isn’t wrong, though, his brain simply hasn’t caught up. And if he retains that love: what about the rest?
Loving Dil despite who he is means it’s possible to love Britain and Britain to love Ireland. In the end we’re all human. The rest is meaningless except for the fact that we constantly give it meaning out of prejudice and fear. The best thing anyone can do is put him/herself in another’s shoes. Fergus does by traveling in Jody’s footsteps—a man he respected as an equal even though he was his enemy. This doesn’t mean Fergus has changed religion, race, or sexuality—just his psychology. An understanding has been met and he’s achieved a higher sense of consciousness as a result. Sadly this is a rarity. For the most part its greed and hubris at the wheel with murder inexplicably made synonymous with freedom.