In the name of the father...
g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Tue Jun 11 01:05:50 MDT 1996
I have just finished teaching Jim Sheridan's film "In the name of the
Father" at a local high school. The response of the kids was very good.
there actually seeems to be a hunger out there for polictical analysis. I
thought I might put down some of my thoughts about the movie.
It is basically the story of Jerry Conlan one of the Guildford Four, a group
who were framed by the British State for a bombing they had nothing to do
with. Gerry's father Guiseppe was also imprisoned when he went to London to
see why his son had been arrested.
The son deal with the relationship between the father and the son. It is
all brilliantly acted and gives the impression that Gerry was and probably
is a tortured soul.
However what especially intrigued me was Sheridan's portrayal of the IRA
man, Joe. He was the "real thing" as a West Indian prisoner described him.
The lone ruthless terrorist. We see that Joe is brave. He fights the
English prisoners single handed. He also wins acceptance from the other
prisoners. But not from Guisseppe who disproves of his violence.
He becomes Jerry's alternative father. Guiseppe is goodness personified,
but he is physically weak and politically conservative. However Gerry
turns eventually from the bad father(Joe) back to the good father (Guiseppe)
when Joe sets fire to the prison warden in a graphically represented act of
The film then is both attracted and repulsed by what Joe rerpresents and it
is this attraction-rerpulsion which I wish to emphasise. I think that here
we have something of a way to understand the relationship between fascism
and the intelligentsia.
To begin with I see Guiseppe as representing the kind of strength
illustrated by the Daoist proverb
Nothing is weaker than water
But for wearing away stone,
Nothing is stronger.
Guiseppe is relentless. It must have been very difficult to have such a
remorseless saint for a father.
Joe is however Supermensch, the "blonde bestie" of Neitzsche's fantasies.
As N. put it
"Man is evil", all the wisest men have told me that to comfort me. Ah, if
only it be true today! For evil is man's best strength.
"Man must grow better and more evil" - thus do I teach.
The most evil is necessary for the Superman's best. (Thus Spoke Zarathustra,
Penguin, 1971: 299)
So Joe is an object of desire for this text/film. But the ruthlessness of
the Supermensch frightens the intellectual.
This is a familiar drama and has been played out with successive waves of
people who have been influneced by Neitzsche. If we look at Yeats' poem "
Easter 1916" for instance we find there the same fear and longing for the
"blonde bestie". Yeats was seemingly very distrubed by the rebellion.
Politically he was opposed but as a weak intellectual who was fascinated
with the notion of the warrior, he was drawn despite himself to the side of
the revolutionaries. Yet he could not make a political pact with the rebels.
He was driven as a solution to his political dilemma to aestheticise both
them and their cause. That is the meaning of the famous line
"A terrible beauty is born"
The lines however which I think are most echoed in Sheridan's film are these.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
>From cloud to tumbling cloud
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-hens call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
This contrast between the "living stream" and the "stone" is vividly
represented in the scene which shows Jerry and the other young people
cavorting in the park. Their harmless fun is suddenly interrupted by the
noise of an explosion. While they have been busy at the things of life
(boozing and bonking) Joe has been busy planting death.
How to link all this with fascism? Well Yeats was of course something of a
closeted supporter of the Irish Fascist movement, the Blue Shirts. But more
importantly this feeling of weakness and the attraction to the violent and
strong was a central element in the relationship between the intelligentsia
and the fascists.
I have a book, the Waveless Plain (1936), in my library by the Irish
intellectual and Mussolini supporter Walter Starkie. At one stage he
discusses the IRA in exactly the same terms as Yeats deals with the rebels
of 1916 and Sheridan portrays the contemporary IRA.
"But all the time we in Ireland were dancing and spreeing there were other
young men working out steadily and pitilessly their plans to put an end to
British power in Ireland. Those eager, sharp-eyed young men lived as
ascetics: they did not drink or dance the Charleston". (:300)
Why do the middle class do this? Well classical marxist theory provides
the answer. They are a class trapped between labor and capital. They envy
and fear both. If the working class are strong and resolute they will
attract the middle class. If they are weak then, the middle class will seek
an accomodation with capital. Moreover if we live in exceptional times,
such as the Great Depression, then that accomodation will take an
exceptional form, namely fascism.
What then of Sheridan's film. It is at one level a decent work. It exposes
the brutality and corruptiion of the British state, but it cannot quite
bring itself to make a political analysis of British Imperialism or the role
of the IRA in fighting it. So almost inevitably it aestheticises this
dilemma and so once more we have yet another film which betrays the Irish
Having said that "In the name of the Father" is a welcome change from the
usual nonsense formula of a Romeo (British Soldier/Protestant/ Catholic
male) deeply in love with a Juliette (Catholic/Protestant Irish), whose love
is doomed by the fanatical Irish Republicans.
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