Movie Review: “The Crying Game”

“A scorpion does what’s in its nature.”

crying_gameThe Crying Game was written and directed in 1992 by Neil Jordan, who had caught my attention in 1986 with his unforgettable Mona Lisa.  But why, you might ask, write about a film from 1992, and one that was so extensively reviewed at the time?

In the first place, The Crying Game is a favorite of mine.  It is one of a select group of movies that I can watch time and again with increased appreciation and new awareness of previously unnoticed subtleties.  Second, there exists a whole new generation of film-goers who may not know about The Crying Game.  If this review prompts even a few of them to watch this extraordinary film, I will be satisfied.  Note though that if I were to assign it an MPAA rating, it would be NC-17, not because I find the material objectionable, but because of the mature nature of the story.

The title The Crying Game was inspired by the song of the same name written by Geoff Stephens in 1964.  The androgynous Boy George would seem the perfect choice to sing the title track, and for those of you unfamiliar with his rendition, here is a video from French TV of Boy George performing “The Crying Game”.

The first half of the film takes place in Northern Ireland during the time of violent conflict known as the Troubles.  It opens at a carnival, where we see Jude and Jody (Miranda Richardson and Forest Whitaker) strolling hand in hand.  Jude is a local woman, and Jody, a British soldier on assignment.  The two of them have just one thing on their mind: finding someplace quiet to lie down together.  All is not what it seems, however.  No sooner do they find a secluded spot than Jody is assaulted at gunpoint by members of the Irish Republican Army who put a hood over his head, handcuff him, and lead him away.  What looked like a seduction was in fact an abduction.

Jody is taken to a remote location, where he is informed that if a high-ranking member of the IRA being held by the British is not released within three days, Jody will be shot.  During his captivity, he is guarded primarily by Fergus (Stephen Rea), an IRA volunteer.  Jody understands intuitively that his best chance of surviving lies in establishing a connection with Fergus.  He continually engages him in conversation, and at one point tells him the story of The Scorpion and the Frog.

These early scenes are fraught with danger and seasoned with gallows humor.  In the climax of the film’s first half, before the IRA’s sentence on Jody can be carried out, their hideout is attacked and destroyed by elements of the British army.  The second half of the film takes place “across the water” in London, where Fergus has fled to escape his IRA comrades.  He meets Dil (Jaye Davidson), with whom a romance begins to blossom, and Col (Jim Broadbent), the philosophical bartender at The Metro.  Ultimately, despite Fergus’ efforts to disappear, he is tracked down by his old friends in the IRA, who have sought him out for a new assignment.

The Crying Game makes an unforgettable first impression, and continues to grow on you with each viewing.  It unfolds much like life itself: it is full of unexpected twists and turns, and at one point after another, we find ourselves confronted by events we can’t control.  There is enough sadness here for three movies, but there is also kindness, pity, sacrifice, and redemption.  Perhaps more than anything else, The Crying Game is saying that we all act in accordance with our nature.  Jody is right about Fergus: he is essentially kind.  He’s right about Jude too: “Don’t leave me with her, man,” he tells Fergus. “She’s dangerous!”

Everyone connected with making The Crying Game should take pride in the finished product.  The highest praise must go to Neil Jordan for his screenplay and direction.  The Crying Game is an exceptionally intelligent movie, and challenges all manner of preconceptions.  Great credit must go to Stephen Rea for his nuanced, Oscar-nominated performance as Fergus, and to Forest Whitaker for his Jody.  From the very beginning, we feel like Jody is one of us, and share in his desperation.  As Jude, Miranda Richardson is scary!  As Jody mentions early on, Jude’s name suits her; we realize later that it is because of its similarity to Judas, the betrayer.  Finally, kudos to Jaye Davidson for an astonishing film debut and Oscar nomination, and for an exceptionally sympathetic performance as Dil.

What is it about The Crying Game that makes it so unforgettable?  I think it is this: At some point in our lives, we have all had our share of the crying game, whether we are male or female, black or white, gay or straight, or somewhere in between.

Derrick Robinson