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Due to Ireland’s small size and its history of colonization, it must constantly consider its

relationship with larger outside powers. With Britain in the east and America in the west, the Irish are

divided upon how to deal with these foreign forces. Presently, Ireland imports American culture and

modernity while exporting a traditional, picturesque image of itself. Thus, Ireland is “torn between

presenting itself as a modern, dynamic society… and an idyllic, prelapsarian culture unsullied by the

twentieth century” (Linehan, 46). It vacillates between inwardness and outwardness, tradition and

modernity, particularism and universalism. I argue that these binary oppositions intermix and eventually

break down. Irish cinema shows how modernity interacts with a particularity to create an identity that

wholly embraces neither essentialism nor modernism; instead it facilitates a dialogue between ostensibly

contradictory interpretations of Ireland.

Ireland’s difficult relationship with superior outside powers began with British colonization,

which resulted in the loss of Ireland’s indigenous language and identity. The children of Into the West

must change their names for the welfare officer, Harry of Michael Collins must assume a different

identity to go west to America, and Fergus changes his name to “Jimmy” when he goes east to Britain.

Like the characters in the films, the films themselves also change identities when traveling overseas. Into

the West was marketed as a children’s movie in America though it was a movie for all ages in Ireland, and

American critics saw The Crying Game more as a critique of sexuality than of Irish nationality. Because

the domestic audience is too small to cover the costs of production, Irish filmmakers have little choice but

to look east and west to market their films. The result is a constant awareness of being watched. The

boys of Into the West are watched from the television news and from a helicopter, while both Michael

Collins’ paramilitary and Fergus’ IRA are under meticulous surveillance by the British police.

In “Reimaging the Nation,” Martin McLoone says that the reaction of some Irish nationalists to

this oppressive outside pressure is “to turn away from the modern world represented by [Britain and

America] and to look inward for a sense of Irishness” (28). Into the West adopts this Irish essentialist

attitude by idealizing rural Ireland of the west and denigrating Dublin of the east. The film establishes
this tension in the beginning, where a loud offensive plane sweeps away the scene of the grandfather’s

horse-drawn buggy by drowning it out both visually and aurally. Using the plane as a transition, the film

cuts to Papa and his sons standing in a dim elevator, which introduces the family’s suffocating

confinement within modern urban life. The elevator, in contrast to the rolling freedom of the western

landscape, is strictly rectangular and metallic, limited to linear movement. It is from this modern

existence in the eastern city of Dublin that the boys must escape.

The west represents the past, a temporal space untainted by modernism. Grandpa tells an ancient

Irish myth about Terminol in which a young man instantly ages when he falls off his horse. Ossie relives

this old myth in the present and refuses to dismount Terminol in a neurotic fear that he will turn old. The

movie associates youth with the past, with an innate and untainted Irishness. Thus, many important

moments of Into the West contain low shot with an upward angle, communicating that the story is told

from the children’s point of view.

During their journey to the west, the boys slowly recall and reconstruct memories of the past, of

their mother and their travelling days. In one scene, the boys reminisce around a campfire while an

ancient Irish castle lies in the background, allowing us to imagine as if the boys are camping in the past.

Like the time machine car of Back to the Future, one of the movies the boys watch, Terminol is the

vehicle by which the boys travel through time. The horse also functions as the Catholic mother of

Ireland. Terminol brings the boys to pray at a statue of the Virgin Mary, and a subsequent scene shows

Papa desperately crying to his wife, “Mary, Mary,” hoping that she will help. Thus, though the Travelers

are physically homeless and rootless, they are the spiritual roots of Ireland. The Travelers preserve Irish

myths, Catholic spirituality, and a connection with the natural landscape while the eastern urban Irish

have forsaken their race memory.

Opposing groups of Irish people appear in Michael Collins as well. Throughout most of the

movie, Irishmen kill not the British, but other Irishmen who hold competing notions of what it means to

be Irish. The essentialist attitude manifests itself in this movie as Eamon de Valera, the Irish leader who

historically extolled a “frugal self-sufficiency” by eschewing foreign influences. During the jailbreak
scene in Michael Collins, de Valera insists that Collins and Harry stop cursing, a humorous premonition

of de Valera’s later puritanism. Collins, during the first half of the movie, is on de Valera’s side and tries

to expel British influence by urging his countrymen to disregard British rules. When a British tank rolls

in to the midst of a soccer game, one Irish soccer player enacts this doctrine of ignoring British rules by

continuing to play the game and eventually scoring a goal. There is a moment of triumph; the spectators

cheer at the soccer player’s brave assertion that Ireland will play its own game. But when the tank kills

the soccer player and proceeds to massacre the crowd, we see that ignoring the British without engaging

with them is absurd. The massacre scene is interspliced with an affectionate scene between Collins and

his girlfriend, just as the scene of the assassinations of British police officers is also interspliced with a

domestic scene between Collins and his girlfriend. This parallel editing shows that Ireland cannot enjoy a

private, peaceful domesticity because violence from the east will inevitably intrude.

Hence, Collins strikes a compromise and accepts British help to fight de Valera. Though Collins

receives criticism for his acceptance of aid from the east, de Valera himself looked west to America for

help. He escaped execution by virtue of being born in America and traveled to America to try to procure

legitimacy for the nation of Ireland. Both Collins and de Valera try to shape Ireland through the

mediation of external countries in the east and west. Just like these Irish revolutionaries, Irish filmmakers

“often require the endorsement of the metropolitan centers (especially London and New York), before

Irish talent is recognized at home” (Rockett, 23). Like Collins, Neil Jordan accepts help from the east

since most of his films are co-produced with British funds, and it was Neil Jordan’s Oscar success in

America that induced Ireland to reinstate the Irish Film Board.

Into the West, despite its dominating Irish essentialism, also looks outside of Ireland. Through a

series of shot reverse shots, we alternate between the attentive faces of the boys and the TV set they are

watching, implying a dialogue between the two. In one scene, the boys watch TV through a hole in the

wall, showing us that they are looking into an entirely different geographical space, the space of the

American western. These western images, transmitted through a modern medium, parallel the indigenous

Irish myth, which is conversely transmitted through a traditional oral medium. Both discourses inspire
the boys to escape. When Ossie prays for Terminol, his prayer is answered by the television, which is

neither Catholic nor indigenously Irish. In the scene when the father dances and sings in the slums, we

move briefly to a close-up shot of a TV lying in the midst of this celebration of the Irish spirit. Thus, Into

the West does not outright reject modern global influences, but endorses an Irish essentialism that

interacts with its antithesis, modernism.

Irish filmmakers synthesize these oppositions by reappropriating foreign discourses. Hollywood

is so powerful that images from the west “are now a part of common currency” (McLoone, 151), but Irish

filmmakers spend this cultural currency on Irish themes and problems. Historically, Ireland copes with

colonization by external powers through reappropriation. “Blarney” is a reappropriation of the English

language, which came from the east. Now Irish filmmakers must similarly reappropriate cinematic

language, which comes mostly from Hollywood in the west. Into the West reappropriates American

cinema to invoke a particularly Irish spirit within the boys. The boys identify with the cowboys, heroes

with indomitable wild spirits riding west. Like one of the movies they watch, Butch Cassidy and the

Sundance Kid, the boys run away from the ever-watching and pursuing state. The boys also identify with

the Native Americans, though they do so unconsciously since Tato insists that they are the cowboys and

not the Indians. The cultural oppression of Native Americans within the American Western is a metaphor

for the Travelers’ oppression within Ireland, which in turn is a metaphor for Irelands’ history of

oppression within Western Europe. The oppressors always represent their victims as the antagonists,

which is why Tato rejects his identification with Indians, the antagonists of Westerns. Near the end, when

Papa says that they have a bit of both cowboy and Indian in them, he grasps the impossibility of

demarcating an unambiguous definition of Irish identity.

While Newell put clips of an American film genre into Into the West, Jordan incorporates

American film genres into Michael Collins. He “appropriates the epic bio-pic, film noir and the gangster

movie… for the present-day concerns of Irish audiences saturated in US cinema” (Pettitt, 258). Like Into

the West, Michael Collins involves a conflict between different groups of Irish people, each with

“different interpretations of what it means to be Irish” (McSwiney, 20). Each faction within Michael
Collins tries to expel competing notions of Ireland. What Collins realizes towards the latter half of the

movie, when he strikes a compromise with the British, is that Irish identity cannot be purified or distilled

into a uniform, isolated nationalism.

Attempts to distinguish Irishness from unIrishness break down completely in The Crying Game.

Political, sexual, and geographical ambiguity defies all our attempts to align nationality, race, gender, and

sexuality. The difficulty of locating a spatial origin is especially difficult with the character, Jody. He

comes from the east as a British soldier, but the fact that he is black suggests that he may be from the

same political space as the Irish as a victim of British subjugation. This point becomes especially clear

when Jody is killed not by Fergus, but by a British armored car, which runs him over and comes to rest on

top of him. In the cut to the next scene, again an impersonal piece of British technology attacks its

victim, the IRA members, from above. Through a shot originating from the ground and directed up at the

hovering helicopter, the viewer shares Fergus and Jody’s sense of being crushed by an untouchable

outside power.

The film further aligns Fergus’ identity with that of Jody’s during Fergus’ first visit to Dil’s room.

As Fergus walks around the room, a tracking shot follows him until he stops behind a wall. We see

Fergus’ face framed through the opening in this wall, while a framed photograph of Jody rests in the

foreground, facing the viewer. This tableau foreshadows Fergus’ efforts throughout the rest of the film of

filling in Jody’s former role. Later in this scene, while Fergus is experiencing his orgasm, the film

dissolves from a shot of Fergus’ face into a shot of Jody’s photograph, which then dissolves into dream

images of Jody. This sequence exhibits Fergus’ desire for and identification with Jody.

Thus, The Crying Game discards the strict geographical categories of Fergus the Irishman versus

Jody the Englishman and breaks down the conceptual boundary between east and west. When Fergus

goes to Britain, we see a ship move across the screen horizontally from left to right, indicating Fergus’

journey from west to east. This scene then cuts into a shot of a brick wall, which is being chipped away

to gradually reveal a blurry cricket game. In a reverse shot, we see that it is Fergus as a construction

worker, drilling through a wall. The bricks having been cleared out, the shot returns its sight to the
cricket game, unobstructed and in focus. Here, the film visually represents its effort to break down spatial

boundaries to show us the cricket game, a symbol of the humanity and vitality that is embodied in Jody.

Fergus’ journey from west to east requires him to demolish preconceived demarcations of political and

sexual identity to find that he is more like the British Jody than the radically-Irish IRA.

Ireland’s identity is shaped by its encounters with the east and the west, and the way it chooses to

ideologically situate itself between the east and the west. Reactionaries to political and cultural

colonization by Britain and America try distill an essential Irishness by expelling instances of the

oppressor, just as de Valera of Michael Collins and the IRA of The Crying Game try to do. However, the

boundary set up between Irish and non-Irish influences proves to be too permeable. The east and west

constantly intrude and embed themselves in Irish existence, and the east and west often mediate Ireland’s

internal conflicts of identity. Instead of rejecting these influences, Irish filmmakers subvert unilateral

cultural domination by reappropriating eastern and western images to rediscover local particulars, and to

question and destabilize static interpretations of Irish identity.


Ruddy Wang

Due to Ireland’s small size and its history of colonization, it must constantly consider its relationship with

larger outside powers. Presently, Ireland imports American global culture and urban modernity while exporting a

traditional, rural, and picturesque image of itself to the rest of the world. Thus, Ireland is “torn between presenting

itself as a modern, dynamic society… and an idyllic, prelapsarian culture unsullied by the twentieth century”

(Linehan, 46). With Britain in the east and America in the west, the Irish are divided upon how to deal with these

outside forces: inwardness versus outwardness, tradition versus modernity, particularism versus universalism. I

argue that these binary oppositions interlink and interact with each other, and eventually, they break down. Irish

cinema shows how modernity interacts with a particularity to create an identity that wholly embraces neither

essentialism or modernism. Cinema facilitates a dialogue between ostensibly contradictory interpretations of

Ireland.

Ireland’s difficult relationship with superior outside powers begins with British colonization, which resulted

in the loss of Ireland’s indigenous language and identity. The children of Into the West must change their names for

the welfare officer, Harry of Michael Collins must assume a different name to go west to America, and Fergus

changes his name to “Jimmy” when he goes east to Britain. Like the characters in the films, the films themselves

also change identities when traveling overseas. Into the West was marketed as a children’s movie in America

though it was a movie for all ages in Ireland, and American critics saw The Crying Game more as a critique of

sexuality than of Irish nationality. Because the domestic audience is too small to cover the costs of production,

Irish filmakers have little choice but to look east and west to market their films. The result is a constant awareness

of being watched. The boys of Into the West are watched from the television news and from a helicopter, while

both Michael Collins’ paramilitary and Fergus’ IRA are under meticulous surveillance by the British police.

In “Reimaging the Nation,” Martin McLoone says that the reaction of some Irish nationalists to this

oppressive outside pressure, to “the dominance of first British and then American culture[,] was to turn away from

the modern world represented by these countries and to look inward for a sense of Irishness” (28). This attitude

yields films of the landscape type, presenting a rural Ireland rooted in Catholic spirituality and pastoral innocence.

However, the essentialism of these films is complicated by an outwardness, by the fact that landscape films keep a
keen eye on the west. In America, such a “romantic view of Ireland” would appeal to “the nostalgic imaginings and

nationalist inclinations of the Irish-Americans” (McLoone, 28).

Into the West displays the attitude of Irish essentialism by idealizing rural Ireland of the west and

denigrating Dublin of the east. The film establishes this tension in the beginning, where a loud offensive plane

sweeps away the scene of the grandfather’s horse-drawn buggy by drowning it out both visually and aurally. Using

the plane as a transition, the film cuts to Papa and his sons standing in a dim elevator, which introduces the family’s

suffocating confinement within modern urban life. The elevator, in contrast to the rolling freedom of the western

landscape, is strictly rectangular and metallic, limited to linear movement. It is from this modern existence in the

eastern city of Dublin that the boys must escape.

The west represents the past, a temporal space untainted by modernism. The boys camp while the ruins of

an old Irish castle lay in the background, and they nostagically recall the past and lament the loss of their mother

and of their travelling days. The vehicle by which the boys make their journey to the past is Terminal, which

functions like the time machine car of Back to the Future, one of the movies that they watch. The horse also

functions as the mother and the Catholic roots of Ireland. It brings the boys to pray at a statue of the Virgin Mary,

and a subsequent scene shows Papa desperately crying to his wife, “Mary, Mary,” hoping that she will help.

Earlier in the film, Grandpa tells a traditional Irish myth about Terminol(sp?) about a young man who

instantly becomes old when he gets off his horse. Ossie relives this old myth in the present and refuses to dismount

Terminol(sp?) in a neurotic fear that he will turn old. The movie associates youth with the past, with an innate and

untainted Irishness. Falling off the horse will result in the destruction of that Irish innocence- age and modernity

will immediately catch up. The race memory revealed by Grandpa’s myth encourages the boys to cling on to their

essential Irishness, while it also reverberates with a fear that the essential Ireland will disappear if the Irish fail to

preserve the traditions embodied in Terminal(sp?) and the Travellers. The Travellers, though they are physically

homeless and rootless, are the spiritual roots of Ireland. Even though the antagonists of the movie are also Irish, the

Travellers come across as the more authentically Irish.

Michael Collins also portrays opposing factions of Irish people. Throughout most of the movie, Irishmen

kill not the British, but other Irishmen that hold competing notions of what it means to be Irish. The essentialist

attitude manisfests itself in this movie as Eamon de Valera, the leader of the Irish revolution. Historically, de Valera
extolled a “frugal self-sufficiency” that encouraged Ireland to eschew foreign influences. During the jailbreak

scene in Michael Collins, de Valera insists that Collins and Harry stop cursing, a humorous premonition of de

Valera’s later puritanism. Michael Collins, during the first half of the movie, is on de Valera’s side and tries to

expel British influence by urging his countrymen to disregard British rules. When a British tank rolls in to the

midst of a soccer game, one Irish soccer player enacts this doctrine of ignoring British rules by continuing to play

the game and eventually scoring a goal. There is a moment of triumph; the spectators cheer at the soccer player’s

brave assertion that Ireland will only play by Irish rules. But when the tank kills him and proceeds to massacre the

crowd, we see that ignoring the British without engaging with them is absurd.

Hence, by the end of the movie, Collins strikes a compromise and accepts British help to fight de Valera.

Even before that, de Valera himself looks west to America for help. He escapes execution by virtue of being born

in America and later travels to America where he tries to procure legitimacy for the nation of Ireland. Thus, both

Collins and de Valera must shape Ireland’s conception through the mediation of external places in the east and west.

Just like these Irish revolutionaries, Irish filmakers “often require the endorsement of the metropolitan centers

(especially London and New York), before Irish talent is recognized at home” (Rockett, 23). Like Collins, Niel

Jordan also accepts help from the east since most of his films are co-produced with funds from Britain.

Into the West, despite its dominating Irish essentialism, also looks outside of Ireland. Through a series of

shot reverse shots, we alternate between the attentive faces of the boys and the TV set they are watching, implying a

dialogue between the two. In one scene, the boys watch TV through a hole in the wall, implying that they are

looking into an entirely different geographical space, the space of the American western. These western images,

which are transmitted through a modern medium, parallel the indigenous Irish myth, which is transmitted through a

traditional oral medium. Both the Westerns and the myth inspire the boys to escape. When Ossie prays for

Terminol(sp?), his prayer is answered by the television, which is neither Catholic nor indigenously Irish. In the

scene when the father dances and sings in the slums, we see a close-up shot of a TV lying in the midst of this

celebration of the Irish spirit. Thus Into the West does not simply extol Ireland and reject modern global influences,

but presents an Irish essentialism that interacts with its antithesis, modernism.

Irish filmakers synthesize these oppositions by reappropriating foreign discourses. Hollywood is so

powerful that images from the west “are now a part of common currency” (McLoone, 151), but Irish filmakers
spend this cultural currency on Irish themes and problems. Historically, Ireland copes with colonization by external

powers through reappropriation. “Blarney” is a reappropriation of the English language, which came from the east.

Now Irish filmakers must similarly reappropriate cinematic language, which comes mostly from Hollywood in the

west. Into the West reappropriates American cinema to invoke a particularly Irish spirit within the boys. The boys

identify with the cowboys, heroes with indominatable wild spirits riding west. Like one of the movies they watch,

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the boys run away from the ever-watching and pursuing state. The boys also

identify with the Native Americans, though they do so unconciously since Tato insists that they are the cowboys

and not the Indians. The cultural oppression of Native Americans within the American Western is a metaphor for

the Travellers’ oppression within Ireland, which in turn is a metaphor for Irelands’ history of oppression within

Western Europe. The oppressors always represent their victims as the antagonists, which is why Tato rejects his

identification with Indians, the antagonists of Westerns. At the end, when Papa says that everyone has a little bit of

cowboy and Indian in them, he grasps the impossibility of clearly demarcating a definition of Irish identity.

While Newell put clips of an American film genre into Into the West, Jordan incorporates American film

genres into Michael Collins. He “appropriates the epic bio-pic, film noir and the gangster movie… for the present-

day concerns of Irish audiences saturated in US cinema” (Pettitt, 258). Both Into the West and Michael Collins

involve conflicts between different Irishmen: the Travellers versus the Dubliners, the IRA versus the Irish working

for the crown, and de Valera versus Collins. Neil Jordan says that “the War of Independence was a war amongst

different interpretations of what it means to be Irish” (McSwiney, 20). The factions within these films champion

their idea of Ireland by expelling competing notions of Ireland. What Collins realizes towards the latter half of the

movie, when he strikes a compromise with the British, is that Irish identity cannot be purified or distilled into a

uniform and isolated nationalism.

Attempts to distinguish Irish from non-Irish or natural from unnatural break down completely in The

Crying Game. Political, sexual, and geographical ambiguity defies all our attempts to aline nationality, race,

gender, and sexuality. Initially, viewers believe that Fergus has a “natural” sexual desire for Dil, only to realize that

this desire has lead him into an “unnatural” homosexual relationship, thus betraying his masculinity. Fergus is

passive and feminine whereas Jude, the female IRA terrorist, is violent and aggressive. Though Jude is ostensibly

the most purely Irish since she is steadfastly devoted to the Irish cause, when she goes east to London, she adopts a
new look, a high-tech urban sheen. With this cosmopolitan Jude, it becomes impossible to discern her provincial

Irishness.

The difficulty of locating a geographical origin is especially difficult with the charater, Jody. He is a black

British soldier, which means that he, like the Irish, was once subjugated by the British. Fergus, as a member of the

IRA, can perceive him both as a British oppressor and a British victim. Fergus goes through a crisis of identity as

he considers that perhaps, though he and Jody are from different geographical places, they may be from the same

political place, just as the Travellers of Into the West are from the same political place as the Native Americans.

Neither Fergus nor Jody seem personally devoted towards the cause which they are supposed to be fighting for, and

by the time Fergus leaves Ireland, we must discard strict categories of geographical origin and cease to see Fergus

the Irishman fighting Jody the Englishman.

Ireland must define its position in consideration of powerful eastern and western influences. One reaction

involves expelling instances of the oppressor to distill an essential Irishness, as de Valera of Michael Collins and the

IRA of The Crying Game seek to do. However, the boundary set up between Irish and non-Irish proves to be too

permeable and easily complicated, since British and American cultural influences have already embedded

themselves deeply within Ireland. However, each film’s heroes show that part of being Irish is being subversive,

and the films subvert unilateral cultural domination by reappropriating images from the east and the west to

compose a distinctly Irish picture. Irish filmakers lean upon foreign or universal cultural images to rediscover a

local particular and to articulate Irish identity by examining its response to discourses from the east and west.
Also, the primordial representation of Jody’s nature and virility is the image of Jody playing cricket, a British game.

However, Jody says the black man’s version of the game is better. He reappropriates a British game to reflect his

own nature.

• Both Fergus and Jody, at the beginning of the film, feel like “disposable pawns in someone else’s game.” By
the end of the movie, Fergus has asserted that he will not play by anyone else’s In Brtain, Fergus replaces Jody
in relationship with Dil, again suggesting that they are interchangable, from the same place. dreams of Jody
playing cricket, looks at pic of Jody while having sex w/Dil, dresses Dil in Jody’s cricket clothes. desire and
identification w/Jody. ultimate primordial representation of Jody and Jody’s virility is him playing cricket-
cricket is a British game. but Jody says the black man’s version of the game is better- reappropriation. idea of
the game and playing it differently, just like in Mike Collins.
• essentialism: frog gives scorpion lift, scorpion stings, “It’s in my nature.” it’s not in Fergus’ nature to kill Jody.
he is essentially human and compassionate, rather than essentially Irish: an appeal to universal human nature
rather than nationalism or factionalism.