A Movie I Won’t Soon Forget

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.

Photos from the essay [newyorker.com]

Photos from the essay [newyorker.com]

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.

There is a terrifying riot scene in the film.

There is a terrifying riot scene in the film.

’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.

71movie1

Jack O’Connor, who was terrific in “Unbroken,” is also excellent here as the lead actor.


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.

 

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8 thoughts on “A Movie I Won’t Soon Forget

    • Religiously. As I mentioned, I know I don’t fit the profile of a regular New Yorker reader, but I really appreciate its perspective and writing. Though I don’t always see things the way they do, I like the short pieces and posts by folks like John Cassidy and Amy Davidson and read them almost every day, but what I really like are the long-form pieces, which are almost always excellent. For example, the newest issue has a long profile by Evan Osnos of the President of China, Xi Jinping. Fascinating stuff. And, anything by Roger Angell, now in his 90s, is sure to be excellent.

      I’ve updated my post with a link to a 1994 New Yorker article, also about the Troubles, that I also recommend.

  1. It is fascinating to see the cultural remnants left from that period, particularly the military standards and customs that evolved out of necessity. Prior to The Troubles, the British military men were allowed/encouraged to wear their uniforms out in public, not unlike US servicemen in the earlier parts of the the 20th century. During the conflict, however, British soldiers were often targeted in public by the IRA causing them to adopt a “no-uniform in public” dress code which still stands in some units today, even in Continental European countries.

    Since the early 90’s and almost exclusively since 2001, the US military trains to operate/survive in desert environments with mock cities and patrol bases fashioned in middle eastern style. Most post-9/11 service members know no different. While that scenario does play a role in training the UK’s military, most of the their older training facilities are designed to replicate a hamlet or neighborhood in Belfast. Many of the US and UK’s counter-IED (improvised explosive device) tactics derived from protecting against the IRA’s sabotage and assassination attempts.

    It is sometimes easier (unfortunately) for us to dehumanize the “enemies” we face today since their architecture/way of life/social norms are so different looking and foreign to us. I can say with first-hand knowledge that military training is especially eerie when learning to “clear” houses that have western kitchens, family rooms, children’s bedrooms, and playrooms.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what’s so frightening and interesting about The Troubles–the familiarity of the enemy.

      That’s a really interesting point about UK training facilities–I didn’t know that.

      I think your final paragraph is why civil wars are the nastiest of all. Think about what it does to a soldier to have to fight people exactly like himself. Wow.