I recently saw a movie that will stay with me for a long time. It’s about a place where deeply-entrenched poverty has nothing to do with race (at least, nothing to do with race the way Americans understand it), a place infected with a terrorism that has nothing to do with Islam, a place in which the soldiers sent from overseas to occupy and pacify it speak the same language and have the same skin color as the natives. And it’s a place of ugly, brutal violence. That place is 1971 Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
“Where the Bodies Are Buried”
I stumbled across an essay in The New Yorker recently that vividly describes the terror and violence and complexities of The Troubles. In many ways, I probably don’t fit the profile of a New Yorker reader: I live in Texas, am a conservative Christian, and come at many issues from a very difference perspective than the secular, elite, bi-coastal consensus that The New Yorker represents. Yet, I read The New Yorker regularly, particularly the long form pieces, at which the magazine really excels.The essay, “Where the Bodies are Buried”, is by Patrick Radden Keefe and is a fantastic piece of writing and journalism. It’s about the Troubles (the period from the 1960s-1990s when Northern Ireland was a war zone), and about a particular nasty murder in 1972 of a 37 year-old widow and mother of ten children by the I.R.A. in Belfast. It’s also about how Northern Ireland has made a fitful transition to peace, and about how Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the I.R.A.’s political wing, has tried to cover up his I.R.A. past. It’s a disturbing, evocative piece, and I highly recommend it. (Also worth mentioning is another essay on the Troubles called “Belfast Confetti,” a New Yorker essay from 1994 by current editor David Remnick, which is compelling in its own right and particularly fascinating to read in 2015.)
The Movie: ’71
With The New Yorker’s essay in my mind, a week later I read about a new movie about the Troubles called ’71, and a couple of friends and I went to see it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
’71 is about a young British soldier abandoned by his unit in a Catholic neighborhood in Belfast who is pursued through the night by I.R.A. killers. It’s also about the fascinating (and terrifying) allegiances of 1970s Belfast, the amoral world of intelligence operatives, and what happens when an occupying force of young men is thrown into a complex political situation that all the foreign firepower in the world won’t pacify. Through the long night, the young soldier comes in contact with the various factions of 1970s Belfast: the I.R.A. and its radical off-shoot the Provisional I.R.A., the Protestant loyalist militias, and the ordinary Roman Catholic and Protestants who try to live in the middle of a war.
Walking down the stairs of the theater afterwards, I realized that I’d been keeping my entire body rigid and tense throughout the movie–it’s that kind of film. It’s really well done: terrifying, honest, brutal, and resists the urge to clean-up everything at it’s end. Highly recommended, though not for the faint of heart.