“The Crying Game”
25th Anniversary Edition
It is hard to believe that it is 25 ago that “The Crying Game” was in theatres. It was considered a shocker and had a scene that if talked about would ruin the film for many viewers and we skirted it whenever writing reviews and/or speaking to others who has not yet seen the film. With the tremendous changes that have taken place in society, I cannot help but wonder if that scene would be so shocking today and with that thought in mind, I am going to write about it here.
The year of “The Crying Game”, 1992, I was enrolled in a post-graduate course on modern Irish literature and that scene was the focus of most of the class. I remember having to write a paper about how the film affected society and so I decided to concentrate on the shocker and came up with the title, “It’s Just a Piece of Meat” and that should give you a general idea of what was so different about the movie.
“The Crying Game” opens with British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) getting kidnapped by the IRA in Northern Ireland. They demand that the UK government release one of their top men who’s recently been detained, in exchange for the soldier’s life. Fergus (Stephen Rea), one of the kidnappers, unexpectedly starts to bond with his captive even though he knows they may have to kill him. Jody tells Fergus about his lover, the beautiful Dil, and asks him to check she’s all right if the worst comes to the worst. Months pass and while in London, Fergus looks for Dil and gets to know her and they begin to fall for one another. However, that’s before a revelation that could end their romance and it isn’t that Fergus was involved in Jody’s kidnapping. There’s also the inevitable return of the IRA.
When first released, the film was considered controversial in Great Britain because the hero was a sympathetic IRA terrorist, and as a result this hurt box office even though the film itself doesn’t really have much sympathy for what the IRA were up to. In the US, however, it was quite a hit but that had to do with Dil, Jody’s girlfriend who has a penis (that is boldly shown on the screen). Most people didn’t see this coming, but it became such a huge topic of conversation that the brief moment completely overshadowed the entire rest of the movie.
It just shows how times change. Today, there might be some concern about making a member of the IRA the lead character. The Good Friday Agreement tempered attitudes toward Irish Republicanism wouldn’t be seen as terrible as it was in 1992. The advertising campaign about one of the characters being transgender/transvestite would be thought to be tasteless and would likely result in protests in today’s world. As James Joyce said in his short story “Eveline”, “everything changes”.
While in the film itself the moment is supposed to be a surprise, it is presented with utmost subtlety. That’s largely because of Jaye Davidson’s performance. Fergus completely freaks out in a rather unpleasant way but for Dil it’s just one more time of being mistreated and disappointed. All Dil wants is love. Today, it would not be acceptable to handle it in the same way today but in the context of the time and of the movie itself, it makes a lot of sense.
There is nothing gratuitous about the scene. In fact it’s a key moment in the exploration of the film’s themes. In Fergus’ relationships with both Jody and Dil, “The Crying Game” looks at someone finding a bond that they wouldn’t have thought possible and which pushes boundaries they never expected to have pushed and challenges one to think of the world in ways they had never done before. This is a story of possible internal and personal redemption and the film is basically about whether people can save themselves by changing their point of view and opening themselves up to new people.
Another aspect of “The Crying Game” that probably would not be seen as okay is the fact that the film never seems sure what Dil’s gender status it. Both the character herself and the script never seem certain if she’s transgender or transvestite, or whether Dil sees herself as a man, woman or genderqueer. That could be because those involved in the making of the movie didn’t really have a full grasp of the issues, as evidenced by some of the archive interviews in the bonus extras that show something of old-fashioned views of gender identity.
It does work though, even though there are moments when it does get very close to treating Dil as a man in a dress. Dil, herself, who pulls the film through in that she is very aware of people’s perceptions, and while her willingness to mould herself to be what other people want her to be is a character flaw, it is also perfectly understandable in the context of someone desperate for human connection. Even thought “The Crying Game” today doesn’t quite have the impact it once did, it’s still an excellent movie. Even with its dark themes it’s a film that wants to believe in change and that things you might think were impossible for you to face, can make you a better person if you open yourself up to them.
The film looks good in this HD Blu-ray release and has interesting extras. That includes a lengthy ‘making of…’ documentary, made several years after the movie, but long enough ago that you can still see what the attitudes of the time were and gives an interesting insight into both the film and how gender was viewed then (and often is now). It also shows what an unusual film this was, which in its way was rather groundbreaking. While some may have issues with how Dil is depicted, few successful films before or since have treated a romance between a cisgender person and a trans individual so seriously.
It’s not surprising that a film that took on such contentious issues seems a bit dated. The film’s core of hope and dedication to the idea of unexpected bonds being able to change people is something that will probably never change.