Pat Duffy ENLS 4040 Irish Film Final Essay The Politics of Masculinity in Irish Film Spanning from

the silent era to the digital age, the films viewed in this course offer a complex historical portrait of Ireland in many of its facets and from many different angles. One theme that binds their disparate storylines and unique settings, however, is masculinity. The films discussed in this essay, with their male protagonists, define masculinity in relation to female characters and other male characters in different time periods and socioeconomic situations, and its definition hinges thus on the protagonist‘s acquaintances and social milieu. From its formulaic rigidity in The Quiet Man, to its stiltedness in My Left Foot, to its binarybending fluidity of The Crying Game, to its infiltrating the private sphere in Nora to an amplification of its old structure in What Richard Did, masculinity in Irish film describes an arc. The films explore traditional patterns of masculinity, break them, reevaluate them and ultimately reinstate an imprived version of them. They do not merely engage in a purely academic discourse on masculinity, however. Each film, whether purposefully or not, uses its commentary on masculinity to express and reflect an aspect of Irish politics or economics contemporary to its setting, from Colonialism to the Celtic Tiger. John Ford‘s The Quiet Man (1952), chronicles the Irish-American Sean Thornton‘s return to his mother‘s native home of Innisfree. Through his assimilation to Irish customs he comes to perform an Irish identity, and thus the film becomes a character study of (stereotypical) Irishness. These customs, however, are inextricably linked with masculinity: his construction of a home, his courting an Irish woman, his firmness and dominance over this woman, his playing the various roles of an Irish husband, his physical brawl with and victory over the alpha male of

In this way.Duffy 2 Innisfree (―Red‖ Will Danaher). And only an American would think of painting it emerald green. in relation to the contrasting societal roles of his wife Mary Kate and the similar roles the men of the town play. These roles are clearly defined. inherited. Thornton not only performs Irishness but manliness as well. He literally beats the Irish at their own game when he asserts his dominance over ―Red‖ Will Danaher in their comically long fight scene. and McLoone calls his dominant command of ―Michaeleen. it harkens back to the metaphor of colonial . Playfair and his wife see the cottage that Sean has prepared. That Thornton can surpass native Irishmen in manliness becomes a politically imbued statement. That Sean Thornton is an American—albeit of Irish descent—looms large in consideration of a particularly Irish masculinity. masculinity is thus achieved through the performance of a series of specific.‘‖ This American upstaging of Irishmen at Irishness is played out in Thornton‘s relation to Will and Mary Kate Danaher. As McLoone points out (57): ―When the Rev. Keeping in mind that Irish identity is linked inextricably with masculine identity in that these roles that Michaeleen guides Thornton to complete have the explicit purpose of achieving Irishness and only produce masculinity as a byproduct. and non-negotiable. ‗It looks the way all Irish cottages should look and so seldom do. Thornton draws a huge crowd: the whole village comes to view Thornton in his two ―gestures of decisive masculinity:‖ the physical overthrow of an alpha-male and the physical putting-into-place of his wife. guiding Thornton at every step of his assimilation. saddle my horse!‖ a ―gesture of decisive masculinity‖ (56). she opines. In both the fight scene and the scene in which he drags Mary Kate home from the train station. the character of Michaeleen serves as a sort of mentor. inherited patriarchal roles. Thornton‘s surpassing even the Irish in these roles suggests Ireland‘s weakness in comparison to America—in both nationality and masculinity. In The Quiet Man.

another outsider in the realm of culture feminizes it: the United States is able to surpass the Irish at their own game and provide a model of Irishness—and masculinity. however. which he uses to move around. so that in the domain of male interaction and camaraderie his masculinity is substantially developed—albeit in unorthodox ways. Eileen are aired but not reciprocated. to the valentine returned to him by his crush. Eventually he will overcome his condition to achieve renown as an artist and author. In her telling the boys to let it seem like their father has finished his part of the construction first. His condition keeps him from interacting with women in a sufficient way however. In the meantime. to Dr. Christy suffers from cerebral palsy and only has complete control over his left leg. takes this idea of stilted Irish masculinity to an even more acute degree in the figures of Christy Brown and his father. Eileen not returning his romantic affection. His despair comes to a head at the dinner following his first exhibition where he shouts.Duffy 3 Ireland being feminized by Great Britain. He still participates with his brothers in play (as they push him in a cart) and sport (as he kicks unblockable penalty shots in soccer). his disability bars him from developing a fully masculine identity. Now however. ―fuck platonic love!‖ when his feelings for Dr. in his 1989 film. In The Quiet Man. My Left Foot. Jim Sheridan. Similar to how Christy's brothers create an unorthodox space for him to develop that aspect of his masculinity defined by male camaraderie. she feeds the illusion that he is still the alpha-male of the house. the figure of the wife serves as the feminine presence in relation . their mother directs the boys to let their father shine when building Christy's annex. and from adolescence to adulthood all of his romantic aspirations are shattered: from his ego-crushing position in spin-the-bottle as the worst possibility for a girl to kiss.

Certainly the most complex treatment of masculinity in this course comes from a film not screened during class: Neil Jordan‘s 1992 film The Crying Game. the Ireland he grew up in was unable to satisfactorily participate in the global economy. Just as Christy is unable to achieve a gratifying sexual relationship with a woman. Ireland seemed to be crippled.Duffy 4 to which masculinity is defined. hers is a female identity against which Jody and Fergus can still distinguish their male identities. male-male interaction is no longer limited to the use of ―traditional male narratives of sport and war‖ (Ayers 332). Jordan‘s film makes the case for the first time (in this course) that gender identity is a performance: an identity not defined by sexual organs. Suddenly. masculinity is further undermined by the wife figure secretly controlling the circumstances that define masculinity. The transvestite Dil does not complicate matters as much as might be assumed: though she is sexually male. in My Left Foot. The Crying Game reorganizes this system. that the system changes. and the figure of woman (as wife and object of desire) makes the sort of masculinity defined in The Quiet Man impossible to achieve. it encroaches upon male-female interaction by appropriating sexual interaction into its scope. . Through the special accommodations made for Christy and his father. The underdevelopment of masculinity in My Left Foot reflects the poverty of the social milieu in which Christy Brown grows up. effectively turning her into a man. and Christy's use of only his left foot mirrors the country's severely limited resources and stressed economic situation. It is only when Fergus dresses Dil as Jody. Whereas The Quiet Man and My Left Foot operate within the same system of defining masculinity—the former showing its successful development and the latter its stiltedness—. masculinity (or the need for it) becomes a weakness to be fed. masculinity was inextricably linked to being sexually male just as femininity was linked to being sexually female. In films prior to The Crying Game.

Jude is ―a private actor in a public world‖ (332). even though The Crying Game redefines the system by which masculinity and femininity find definition. still operate along the lines of the traditional feminine-private/masculine-public corollaries. She is a soldier who lets her emotions get a hold of her. Fergus continues his relationship with Dil despite this revelation. once defined. and in the context of Jody‘s ―trap. [Jude] is the one who makes it. Therefore. The home life of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle in the film exhibits a typical . This relation of femininity to private life binds the other feminine character. and the moment in which Fergus realizes that Dil is sexually male is one of profound discomfort and disillusionment.‖ this persistent relationship with Dil translates to persistent NRA resilience in the face of British opposition. Dil‘s secret sexual identity can be seen as a British weapon used against the NRA: Jody‘s last act of defiance in captivity is the setting of a prolonged trap into which Fergus falls. At the heart of the Crying Game lies a discourse on the balancing of public and private relationships. Katherine Ayers analyzes how the film plays with gender in terms of the traditional binaries of public/private life and masculine/feminine identity. hinges less upon the rules of this new system of gender definition and more upon its break from the old system. these gender identities. however. According to her. even though she is sexually male: Dil ―expresses no political opinions and takes no side in the central political dispute‖ (333). a public actor with the private weaknesses of ―her anger of being sexually rebuffed by Fergus and her almost irrational hatred of Jody‖ (332). It is in Pat Murphy‘s Nora (2000) that these traditional private/public binaries will be reevaluated. Interestingly.Duffy 5 The film‘s political use of masculinity. In this way. along with sandwiches for the men‖ (332). Jody‘s dying wish is that Fergus take care of Dil. personal desires and public responsibilities. Further soldering the corollary between femininity and private life is the fact that ―when Fergus demands tea for Jody.

Duffy 6 dynamic for the era. is second to his ambition as a writer. not specifically Irish. ―Did you fuck my wife?‖ Whereas in the model for masculinity set forth by The Quiet Man. Joyce works as a teacher of English in Trieste while Nora stays in the private sphere of their apartment tending to young Lucia and Giorgio. the gender equality of twenty-first century criticism is injected into the world of Dubliners in 1904. In another instance of publicizing the private. Joyce‘s occupation as an English teacher. Though the couple do interact on somewhat equal terms. He further undermines his own masculinity by trying to establish an affair between Nora and an Italian acquaintance. this interaction is not so much a result of a progressive dynamic in which men and women are equal. frantically screaming. but Joyce‘s masculinity is as impaired as Christy Brown‘s in My Left Foot. In her interpretation. Joyce confronts this acquaintance on a boardwalk filled with pedestrians. progressive. For her. in Nora Joyce publicizes the couple‘s dirty laundry in both literature and company—dirty laundry that Joyce himself is responsible for soiling. His appropriating Nora‘s private and personal story of her young love into The Dead exhibits how his public profession encroaches upon the private sphere of his household until the two spheres are one. This blending of the public and private can be seen as a sort of feminizing for Joyce. speaking of gender relations in a positive. the film is a sort of revisionist view of history. and complex way‖ (125). Thus does Nora illustrate a return to the gender-defining system of The Quiet Man. in which Joyce‘s public self invades Nora‘s private space. the political statement implicit in Nora’s treatment of masculinity is global. Unlike . however. in which film Sean Thornton and Mary Kate keep their domestic troubles private to save face. For Dióg O‘Connell. but of the old patriarchal binary of private/public. ―telling a love story that expresses equality. and the type of writing he aims to do involves an upset of this public-private dynamic. Occupying the public sphere.

However. Richard shows that private. Lenny Abrahamson offers a portrait of a male in both the public and private spheres. Joyce is emasculated through his (imagined) cuckoldry and public embarrassment. The portion of the film before Conor‘s death establishes Richard‘s masculinity in the same way that The Quiet Man establishes Sean Thornton‘s. with the important distinction that the two do not blend. masculine discourse can broach topics considered conventionally taboo for masculine settings—but that the masculine bond makes this sort of unconventionality possible without judgment. could be considered emasculating. he leads a conversation with his male friends asking. however. In his interactions with his girlfriend Lara. . the audience sees an intensely sensitive aspect of Richard that was absent in his interactions with men: we learn of his childhood and his insecurities as he reveals them to Lara. at night after a day of drinking. In this way. the film offers an important distinction from Ford‘s film in that the scope of these interactions is widely amplified to include topics that. His interactions with men are incredibly complex. He is an alpha-male figure. in a system like the one in The Quiet Man. What Richard Did operates within similar gender norms as The Quiet Man: masculinity is defined by a man‘s interactions with both men and women. In What Richard Did (2012). attractive rugby player whom his male companions idolize and to whom his female companions seem to be attracted. ―Have you ever noticed that guys seem to want to get it on with each other?‖ He quickly saves face by saying he is not a homosexual and would only bring up such an issue around close friends. contrary to Nora and much like The Quiet Man. a charming.Duffy 7 Christy who is emasculated by his being barred by sexual activity. In one scene. to the point of entering almost emasculating territory. In this way.

according to Trevor Johnston. Bringing them beer. still having Lara with whom to spend his time. however. Besides. The arc described by masculinity‘s shifting definitions throughout the five films discussed in this essay should not be seen as regressive: after all. the narrative of the film seemingly [echoes] the country's own cold-light-of-day experience in recent years‖ (47). the confusing alternative of The Crying Game is hardly better: in its abolishing the distinction between sexual and gender identity. Richard moves on with his life. there is much more flexibility for what can be considered masculine and feminine. dazzling them with conversation. ―The party is definitely over. Richard. though bending back to a similar foundation after curving away from it. like the Irish economy. all about three years Richard‘s junior. After his friends abandon him. it still relegates femininity to the private sphere.‖ he says. Ireland‘s economic fallout after the boom of the Celtic Tiger. and ―as responsibility dawns. an arc‘s line moves forward. he is more of an idol for them than an active participant. Both males and females in the film interact differently in their respective private and public spheres. The end of the film shows Richard‘s abandoning this last-ditch effort to reclaim his alpha-male status and accepting his new position in life. and sleeping with the girl on whom Jackson has a crush. he finds a circle of acquaintances for which he can serve as the alpha-male: Jackson and his friends. against whose femininity he can establish his masculinity. the women of the film are not relegated to the private sphere: they are presented the same opportunities for education and careers. masculinity is still defined through men‘s interaction . is resilient.Duffy 8 The unexpected turn that Richard‘s life takes after his actions lead to Conor‘s death mirror. Though What Richard Did only offers a glimpse into the male world. but both are free to move between either. Just as Ireland came to accept its new economic situation. Ultimately. Though What Richard Did operates within a similar gender-defining system as The Quiet Man.

. As Irish film continues to explore how masculinity is defined—and how this is reflected on the social and political scale—one thing is certain: it is a vital topic.Duffy 9 with both men and women. Its definition is always in flux and its discussion will continue to inform how the Irish view themselves as individuals and as a nation. but it is no longer a dominating force that keeps women silently restricted to home life like in The Quiet Man.

McLoone. Intellect Bristol. Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema. UK. ―A Modern Love Story — Nora.2 (1997): 329–335. London: British Film Institute.2 (2013): 46-48. "Boom And Bust. Dióg. . 2006. Web. ―The Only Good woman. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Katherine. Isn't a Woman at all: The Crying Game and the Politics of Misogyny. 9 July 2013." Sight & Sound 23. 2010. Web. Johnston.Duffy 10 Works Cited Ayers. Elsevier Science Ltd. 8 July 2013. M.‖ New Irish Storytellers: Narrative Strategies in Film:114-137. Martin. Trevor.‖ Women‘s Studies International Forum 20. O‘Connell.

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