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Desire is a danger zone
They say love is blind, and for the most part, that's true. Love doesn't care what someone looks like or the type of clothes they wear. Love could not care less for the cosmetic or the cool. It leaves those leanings to its brothers, lust and obsession. No, when love enters into a deal, it is almost always based on invisible connections, unseen bonds that build up in strength and severity until the human spirit, addicted and dire, can no longer physically live without it. While the longing may be emotional in concept, the need is genetic. Love alters the DNA, makes both man and wo-man more hu-man in the process, while setting them up inside for a pain worse than any pragmatic ache. So while it's blind to the outer elements of appearance and attraction, love is also sightless to the harm it causes and the torture it traumatizes us with.
Yet with all of its power, can love really transcend training? Can it lift us beyond our basic schooling and sense of social self to actually alter our perceptions? Would it be possible to actually fall in love with someone whom you have no known tendency or tolerance for? Could we care for the criminal holding us hostage, or the man who we intend to kill? Does who someone is on the outside matter if we long for what is inside, for how the person makes us feel or function? These are also all parts of love's devastating design, the way in which it unreasonably plows through precepts to get to the center of the susceptibility, ignoring everything around and outside of it. Once we are trapped, we are lost in it, a slave to its conspicuous consumption. Breaking free is almost impossible. While logistics and life may provide the distance, the hurt still lingers like an uninvited party guest in the house of pain.
That is why we all known the Crying Game, the emotional whirlwind made up of kisses and sighs, hellos and goodbyes. For some, like hairdresser and nightclub performer Dil, the game is a daily ritual, a never-ending hunt for treasure of the heart. For IRA terrorist Fergus, the game is a ghost, a phantom feeling he long forgot he ever knew or experienced. When these two finally meet up, the connection is electric. Both long to escape the world they are in and live a life misplaced inside each other. But as writer/director Neil Jordan states in his masterpiece of a movie, not everyone is what they seem when they enter The Crying Game. Looks can be deceiving, and as we all know, love is blind.
Facts of the Case
Members of the Irish Republican Army kidnap British soldier Jody and take him to a secure location in the country. If the government doesn't respond favorably to their demands, he will be killed. The prisoner is put under the careful watch of Fergus, a dedicated if decidedly downbeat follower of the faith. Over the course of a couple of days, the two develop an uneasy bond, sharing stories about their lives and loves. Jody is afraid he will never see his lover, Dil, again, and asks Fergus to look after her if something should happen to him. Tragic events turn everyone inside out, and Fergus soon finds himself on the run, seeking refuge in London. Good to his word, he looks for Dil and, unexpectedly, falls in love with her. But he soon learns that you can't escape your old comrades, and as the truth about Dil is revealed, some old IRA buddies, including fierce femme fatale Jude, come calling, looking for a little metaphysical payback.
Warning: Many of the main plot points of The Crying Game will be discussed in this review. With said spoiler warning in place, proceed with caution.
It is rare when a movie comes along that can channel certain social mores and personal taboos and still resonate with respect and esteem. More times than not, the stigma being bandied about gets the better of the box office and the film gets diverted because of the politics and agendas of its subject. People also pile on their own personal prejudices and simply refuse to venture beyond their own cinematic comfort zone. They want to be hip and happening, but the peer pressure of a myopic public usually stifles a sense of invention and experimentation. Indeed, as it does with most facets in life, the way in which the rest of the world views certain subjects, and the people that support them, can be a preamble to success or failure. So it takes a stroke of genius to avoid the destructive din while diving into uncharted, forbidden territory. Possessed of such palpable brilliance is Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan. While he's taken on religion, politics, crime, and sexuality in previous films like Angel and Mona Lisa, he somehow managed to combine all four, plus many, many more, into an intoxicating brew of daring defiance known as The Crying Game. Some 14 years after its release, there has never been another film quite like it.
The Crying Game is a movie obsessed with misdirection. At every turn in the plot, every aspect of the narrative, it defies expectations and goes off in its own, unique directions. It has the audacity to mix two of the most divergent aspects of British culture circa 1992—the "troubles" in Northern Ireland and the emergent gay club culture—and meld them into a love story of rare beauty and truth. From the opening frames to the final moments, this is writer/director Neil Jordan's unqualified masterwork, a movie that functions on so many levels that one loses count in their reflection. As a character study, it's creative and considered. As a piece of political propaganda, it is both helpful and harmful. As a tale of friendship and honor, it is dense and articulate. As a meditation on what it means to be in love, and why said emotion lingers within and pains the soul, it is as heartbreaking as it is aching. Some could see it as nothing more than a sensational situation of storytelling sleight of hand, a clever conceit couched in a sexually ambiguous skin. But at its core, The Crying Game is a movie about defying expectations, both personal and procedural, to get to the truth of what makes us human beings.
It all comes down to cinematic legerdemain. Take the film's setup. We meet a young black man strolling through a local carnival, fine piece of crumpet dangling off his arm in slutty repose. The parameters of familiarity immediately start falling into place. We've seen a scene like this before. We think we know what to expect. Even the occasional cut to actor Stephen Rea, standing back in the shadows, seems to suggest something criminal, not abnormal or nationalistic. But soon, the supposed riverside sex scene is turned into an abduction, just as the resulting kidnapping will later transform into a kind of buddy picture between the seized soldier and his IRA terrorist keeper. As we move along, we get humor and catastrophe, unsuspecting action and a massive military strike. By the time our rebel reaches London, we no longer know what to expect. Meeting up with Dil and deciding that we may have a love story after all seems sensible. But then Jordan drops yet another brave bomb upon us, showing us why any relationship between Fergus and Dil may meet with some unsteadiness. Still, the narrative marches along, reintroducing violence and tempting taboos, exploring the nature of both love and devotion, emotion and involvement. This is what The Crying Game so good. This is what makes it so great.
At the time, much was made of The Crying Game's secret. Indeed, if you're new to the entire experience and want to enjoy the film from the purest standpoint, you may want to move along a few paragraphs right…about…now. It is safe to say that Jaye Davidson's devastating performance as the androgynous object of Fergus's passion is one of the great character creations of all time, something that even in our more enlightened times, never reveals itself as false or phony. We totally believe in Dil as a dame, until the panties come down and the penis is revealed. Even then, Jordan braves the backlash and proceeds with his story. The reason is simple: He has already established Fergus's fondness for the haughty hairdresser with a sexy swagger, so who cares if the gender is reversed, or even removed. Dil's manhood doesn't really dissuade Fergus, just flummoxes him initially. But what our awkward anti-hero realizes is that affection crosses all lines, be they political or personal. He can't shake his emotions for this man in woman's finery, no matter how hard he, or society, would like him to.
The gay theme is one of the bigger risks in Jordan's design, something that back in 1992 was envelope pushing and precarious. The reason The Crying Game survived such a social stigma was the manner in which Jordan designed his film. He made us, the audience, fall in love with Dil right along with Fergus. As the scenes play out, we marvel at the way she moves, love the lilt and world-weary resolve in her voice, and find everything about her provocative and fresh. From the lip sync sentimentality of her Crying Game performance (more on this in a moment) to the manner in which she makes the activist Jude seem that much more angry, aggressive, and asexual, Dil is the dynamic we need to carry us through all the irrationality and irregularity in the film. Jordan sets up Dil as the main character, much more than Fergus—though he tends to have the most screen time. No, Dil is the drive and the catalyst for everything that will happen in The Crying Game for both good and bad. Without her, we wouldn't have the unusual love story at the core. Without her, we wouldn't have Fergus's need to break off his terrorist's ties. And without her, The Crying Game would be just a typical tale of lovers lost in a war-torn time and place.
As with any magic trick, Jordan is somewhat visually mum about the way in which he pulls off his original ruse. Oddly enough, by viewing the movie in hindsight, without the shock of the surprise or the novelty of the narrative, we can see that Jordan's Oscar-winning script was laying out clues and hints all along. When Jodie is interrogated, he mentions that Dil is not like other girls. Our jovial bartender Col tries to warn Fergus away several times. The closeted conceits of the obsessed boy Dave who insists upon badgering Dil is also a more or less dead giveaway. Indeed, when Dil performs onstage, Jordan frames the image in such a way as to accentuate the "manly" aspects of Dil's persona: in one particular shot, her wrists appear massive and his shoulders seem to grow with hidden machismo. There are times when actor Jaye Davidson looks more feminine than the most sensual siren. There are other times when his trans-sexuality comes across loud and clear. Indeed, it is part of Jordan's pattern. He forces us to accept as he challenges, to believe in Dil as an object of desire as he constantly undermines her "mainstream" appeal. By the end, stripped of almost all his/her femininity, Dil is reduced to what he/she really is—vulnerability incarnate. And the reasons for and against Fergus's attachment become all the more clear.
If The Crying Game were only about the same sex awakening of a stern Irish laddie, which is a gross overgeneralization of one of the many themes in the film, it would have failed from the moment said missive hit the screen. Instead, Jordan enters this subject from a side door. He turns Fergus into a man distraught and damaged by what has happened during the kidnapping. He had an ethical and emotional awakening, a too close for comfort brush with death that makes him desperate to embrace life. As a result, Fergus naturally misses the tip-offs and the tendencies. He enters into his relationship with Dil openly and honestly. He genuinely feels bad for what happened to Jody. He experiences an instant attraction when he meets Dil, and he never questions his own beliefs or motives. As a result, the orientation issue becomes virtually nonexistent. Since Jordan wants to explore why and who we love, he wants to strip away the artifice of proclivity and penchant to merely focus on the people. Dil and Fergus don't grow attached to each other based on gender or bias. Instead, there is an affection built of need, a desire born of wanting to belong.
It is interesting that Jordan would juxtapose the frailty of human longing against the political dramatics of the fight for Irish independence. In many ways, the "troubles" represent the dynamics of the modern world, the complex calling cards of issues and ideas that hound and hinder us. We often recognize that they don't seem to make sense, but still we support them with conviction and concern. With Dil, Fergus is lost in a strange fairy tale where love seems pure, if not just a wee bit perverse, and nothing from the outside seems to matter. When his IRA pals return to redeem their certificates of loyalty and allegiance, it's no surprise that the inventive, insular world that he and Dil live in is shattered and shell shocked. Jordan lets us understand that, in order to sanctify and survive his relationship with Dil, Fergus must battle forces both inside and outside himself. If he can conquer his internal prejudice and extract himself from the ideological killers he's been born into, he might have a chance at happiness.
Indeed, contentment is what all the characters in The Crying Game are looking for, a sense of satisfaction in a world constantly disconnected from such bliss. Like the calming center in a storm, or an island in an ocean filled with despair, what Dil and Fergus, and even Jody and Jude for that matter seem to want is a fulfillment of their needs. What they all learn, of course, is that sacrifice is required to achieve such stable ends. Nothing comes for free, and Jordan never shies away from showing the price that must be paid. In order to escape the IRA, death must be part of Fergus's finale. In order to consummate their relationship, both Dil and her man must cast off the preconceived notions of right and wrong (from a strictly social sense) and give in to their desires.
In order to realize such rich, dense issues, Jordan needed actors who could stand up and be counted. He got bravura turns from everyone in the cast, including its lead. Stephen Rea was an unknown quantity to most American audiences when The Crying Game hit these shores, but this star making performance left an indelible imprint on all who saw it. Combining a hound dog sense of solemnity with a bawdy bit of UK cheek, he made Fergus a rebel without a course, a manchild gone astray, seeking enlightenment from anything that offers a sense of place. That's why he's part of the IRA—it provides the family, friendships, and faith that's missing in his life. On the other end of the spectrum, Miranda Richardson's Jude is a jaundiced bitch in babe's clothing. She wants nothing more than complete control and utter devotion from both her political and personal pals. When she fails in any of these regards, a kind of primal rage is unleashed, making her the most deadly of enemies. She will never relent until she gets what she wants, and Richardson makes us feel every malevolent leaning in Jude's design.
But the true star here, in every sense of the word, is Jaye Davidson. Given the most difficult job in the whole film—convincing an audience of a specific gender orientation—he manages the masquerade brilliantly. Dil, like the film he resides in, is a great distraction and device, a way to get us to the meat of Jordan's story without having to wade through a lot of ancillary issues. Aside from a true chameleon's capability, Davidson gets deep into Dil's personality, occupying the trip wire tendencies and the shattered need of the character with unbelievable ease. Not wanting to be a star, Oscar nomination notwithstanding, Davidson has since dropped out of the public eye to return to the obscurity from whence he was pulled. But in Dil, he leaves a lasting impression, a truly inspirational character that became the benchmark for all such male/female portrayals to come afterward. Along with the amazing work by others, including Forrest Whittaker, Adrian Dunbar, and Jim Broadbent, The Crying Game is an actor's tour de force.
It is Jordan, however, who pulls this all together, juggling the divergent strands of his story until they all payoff in marvelous, measured ways. The Crying Game is a film that simultaneously challenges your heart and your head as it messes with both your notions of commitment and surrender. It invites us into a situation that we could never imagine—either from a criminal or carnal standpoint—and then shows us why we were a fool to ever be concerned. Jordan is not a fancy filmmaker. He doesn't use clever angles or directorial antics to make his points. Instead, he captures the inner beauty of everything he observes, from the cricket fields near a condemned construction site to an overgrown hothouse rebel hideout, moving them immediately into the realm of the unreal as well as the real. He then places action both fanciful and frightening within their settings, allowing the circumstances to blend into a kind of sensible surrealism. There are times when events seem outrageous or awful in The Crying Game, while others are as authentic as the blood being spilt or the love being shown. This is part of Jordan's design, and it makes his movie all the more magnificent. Even with its now famous twist behind it, this is still one of the best films of the '90s.
Seven years ago, Live Entertainment released a DVD version of The Crying Game that, frankly, did not do the film justice. The image was atrocious, poorly mastered and missing many of the key elements that videophiles prefer—like proper aspect ratio, color correction, and 16x9 compatibility. Thankfully, Lions Gate has gone back and polished this potent film with a brand new, amazing looking transfer. The Crying Game looks fresh from the cineplex in this new version, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen picture vibrant with visual splendor. Contrasts are kept in check (no visible edge enhancement here) and the compression issues are minor to say the least (during a couple of fade outs, the blacks reveal a few telltale pixels). Still, for a film as important as this one to go disrespected for so long makes this Collector's Edition DVD a true film gourmet's godsend.
On the sound side, Lions Gate also ups the audio options by giving us three distinct aural experiences to choose from. The Dolby Digital Stereo is probably the most disappointing, since it feels flat and rather shrill. Sometime, even in supposedly bass heavy moments, the subwoofer just sits there. Thankfully, our tubthumping tendencies are rewarded by both 5.1 mixes (DTS and Dolby Digital). Each one turns The Crying Game into an unmatched sonic experience, with plenty of channel challenging dynamics and plenty of crystal clear dialogue. The gorgeous score by Anne Dudley, combined with the use of some clever pop songs (the title track included), makes for a wonderfully atmospheric and ambient presentation.
Another arena where this DVD excels is in the addition of bonus content. We are treated to a making-of featurette, a look at "The Troubles" themselves, the alternate ending Jordan was forced to shoot, and a peak at Madam Jojo's, the nightclub that was the inspiration for Dil and Fergus's cinematic hangout. Jordan also gets a chance to speak for himself during a full-length audio commentary that really does a great job of walking us through The Crying Game's production process. To hear him tell it, what began as several ideas floating around in his head (an unusual love story, a political thriller) ended up being fused together in a kind of moment of clarity. Yet when he shopped the script around no studio was interested in financing this potential "fiasco." From there, Jordan highlights location information, actor anecdotes, and the reasons for certain plot points in the film. From his love of Ireland to his amazement over how long the movie's secret was kept, this alternative narrative gives us a great bit of insight into how The Crying Game was made.
A lot of the same ground in covered in "The Making Of The Crying Game: Irish Luck, English Love, The Marketing Of An American Independent & Discussing The Crying Game" (now there's a mouthful). Featuring Jordan, Rea, Jane Giles (author of a book on the film), producers Stephen Wooley and Nick Powell, as well as Catholic journalist Malachi O'Dougherty and former IRA terrorist Danny Morrison, this sprawling, sometimes unfocused presentation moves through many aspects of the movie, from its filming to its themes. Frankly, there is not enough focus on the cast and crew. Instead, there is a lot of bickering about the film's lack of industry support, the difficulty in casting Dil, and the divergent political points of view. While many will find this a nice, in-depth discussion, fans of the film may be a little underwhelmed by the far too broad dialogue.
One of the best features, however, is the appallingly bad "alternate ending" that Jordan was mandated to create. Fearing that audiences wouldn't buy what happened between Dil and Fergus in the final scenes, Jordan had to come up with a "happy" conclusion for his lovers. The resulting ridiculousness, presented here from a VHS dub, is absolutely awful, destroying most of what the film was trying to achieve in the first place. Jordan provides a commentary over this bonus as well, and he seems both ashamed of how bad it is and glad that it proved he was right all along. With this new conclusion, The Crying Game would be crap.
The "Northern Troubles" featurette is also interesting, especially since it gives us a chance to hear from both sides of the issue from people actually involved in it. But, frankly, it's really ancillary to the movie experience. Same with "Modern Day at Madam Jojo's." So much has changed in the 14 years since The Crying Game that visiting a drag club just doesn't have the same impact as it once did. As a result, it's a nice little diversion, filled with colorful characters and occasional humor, but it's rather unimportant to understanding the film.
The Crying Game is an important film in the dynamic of 90s cinema for several reasons. It solidified the power of the independent film—along with Pulp Fiction—showing Tinseltown that there was an actual threat to their one time dramatic dominance. It proved that, when handled in a sensitive and salient manner, any subject matter could be embraced by a broad based viewing public. It announced Neil Jordan as a major filmmaking force (something known, but not universally acknowledged since 1986's Mona Lisa) and made Stephen Rae and Jaye Davidson unlikely household names. Perhaps the largest contribution to the culture made by the movie was in the many spoofs and jokes crafted at The Crying Game's expense. While it may be only known as the ultimate plot twist film, it is so very much more than that. In the long line of love stories, The Crying Game breaks as many conventions as it embraces. And though emotion may be blind, unable to see beyond its basics, this is one film that expands the perception of devotion and desire better than any other. The Crying Game may defy expectations, but it never cheats its audience or its characters. It is a truly great film.
Not guilty! Neil Jordan and his film are hereby exonerated by this Court and are free to go. Lions Gate is given credence for creating this wonderful DVD package. While the extras may leave a little to be desired, the tech specs are stellar.
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• Commentary by Director Neil Jordan
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