Movies We Like
The Crying Game
In his introduction to the published screenplay of Chinatown, Robert Towne wonders if there’s anything left to do with noir. He wonders if the aesthetics and thematics and poetics of noir are simply outdated in the information age, where a sense of mystery is harder to come by. Sensibly, he shrugs off this worry and points to The Crying Game as an example of how noir can still say new things to us as a modern audience. The thing I admire so much about the film, though, is that it manages to be both a deeply personal love story as well as a morality play about modern day political crime in Britain. It’s an IRA story with terrorism, assassinations, and a queer love story at its center. Somehow it all makes complete sense.
The first third of the film is told in flashback. Fergus, played by Stephen Rea, is an IRA operative who feels immense guilt for having had a role in the death of a hapless British soldier, Jody, played by an overbearing and overacting Forest Whitaker. Whitaker’s character gets to know Fergus after he’s nabbed and before the inevitable happens, Jody makes Fergus promise to check in on his girlfriend, a London hairdresser named Dil, after he is gone. The story goes from IRA thriller to blue neon Brit noir when Fergus goes to London, haunted by the tragic fate of Jody. He looks in on Dil as promised and quickly becomes infatuated with her. Dil is a cool London chick and a transgendered woman (with a penis) though Fergus has no idea. Fergus isn’t saying who he really is and Dil isn’t saying who she really is. Once nature takes its course and Fergus discovers the truth about Dil he doesn’t handle it very well. But because of the fact that he actually has a conscience, and his genuine confusion over his feelings towards Dil, he doesn’t ever really leave her. The IRA is never truly going to let him go, though, and his loyalty to them becomes a liability for someone in the throes of a curious new relationship.
It’s hard for me to remember but I’m sure the release and fanfare around The Crying Game was greeted with a self-satisfied, “look how sophisticated the ‘90s are gonna be” general attitude from the cultural intelligentsia. There was a lot of hype around it, including this ridiculous P.T. Barnum-style marketing ploy where producer Harvey Weinstein begged filmgoers not to spoil the big “surprise” of the film for people who hadn’t seen it yet. It’s true that the effectiveness of the film’s famous reveal is probably diluted if you know beforehand that not all is what it seems but Weinstein’s carnival barker theatrics lent a little bit of an unsavory freak show element, I think. Still, The Crying Game was a true cultural phenomenon that struck a nerve with a huge audience. It’s a rare film that manages to be a stylish neo noir while actually having something fresh to say about sexual identity and sexual politics. It’s my favorite kind of queer film: a film that finds the queer center in a larger story about the world we all live in.