Cult Column

Films about The Troubles in Northern Ireland (NI) are tricky, it’s still a hugely inflammable subject; inextricably tied in with religion and politics which are already inflammatory subjects in any case.

The native NI film culture (as non-existent as it is) won’t touch it. Maybe this is a good thing, what instantly comes to mind is last year’s uplifting Good Vibrations.

It must be noted that the directors/actors/production companies of prominent troubles films (Hunger, In the Name of the Father, A Prayer for the Dying) are all coming from a place of relative objectivity.

A friend I saw ’71 with asked me at the end if the director was Northern Irish, the name Yann Demange serendipitously flashed on the screen— somehow I think not.

It was incredibly odd to see the violence and conflict actually played out in ’71, everyone looked the same, spoke with the same broad Belfast accent and roused together in one riotous mass.

So often the depictions are of a nationalist individual who has been alienated by the state as opposed to a clear cut catholic vs. protestant war— which seems to me to be to be the most blatant facet.

This concept is really key to depictions of the troubles in cinema— the role of the enemy is consistently transferred onto the government. Take Hunger, or In the Name of The Father, as examples; both focus on internment and The Prevention of Terrorism Act rather than the actual conflict.

’71 was such a revelatory watch for me because it actually depicted the very real violence— safely from the absolved perspective of an individual who admittedly didn’t know if he was catholic or protestant.

There is an inevitable one sidedness that comes across from depicting angry, embittered young men with a cause. Rash and ignorant seem to be generic character traits, yes, a film with the moral ‘we’re not so different after all’ would be trite but a weird mood is conveyed when the unionist/nationalist tribe is depicted as a remote other, unseen but ultimately responsible for the underlying conflict and thus the government’s impetuous measures.

It’s problematic precisely because either tribe; unionist/nationalist, protestant/catholic are so clearly indistinct from each other. While watching ’71 I was reminded of Vietnam war films— more in terms of action and pace rather than content, but it got me thinking about Full Metal Jacket, and how the soldiers become increasingly disenfranchised as they become more and more aware of the inhumanity of the war.

In films about the troubles, the issue of accountability about the violence on the streets is avoided.

It’s tense. Politically speaking in NI there’s a sense of polite accountability undermined still by an atmosphere of secrecy on either side. The troubles implicates moments of extreme inhumanity but no gratifying moments of anagnorisis come to mind when you consider both cinema and sadly, the actual peace process.

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