To the editors:
I’m sorry that Thom Andersen was disappointed by the big surprise of Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, and I must agree with him that the producers’ attempts to market the secret as a major aspect of the film’s value was probably a mistake [“The Misogyny Game,” March 5]. But I could not disagree with him more about the reasons that The Crying Game should not be viewed as just a “gimmick” movie. It is a much more complicated film than Andersen–or most other reviewers–give it credit for.
Andersen contrasts The Crying Game with Hitchcock’s Vertigo in order to quarrel with Jordan’s decision to keep Dil’s identity a secret until its revelation to Fergus. But–despite Hitchcock’s explanations for the narrative logic of revealing Madeleine/Judy’s identity to the audience before Scottie knows about it–Vertigo limits the extent to which an audience can identify with Scottie as a result. Since the viewers know something Scottie does not, they respond as voyeurs rather than participants in his emotions as the story unfolds. Andersen might well have contrasted The Crying Game with Neil Jordan’s 1991 film The Miracle, which is also reminiscent of Vertigo. In The Miracle, a man once again falls in love with a woman who has a secret. In The Miracle, as in Vertigo, the audience learns the truth–that the woman is the man’s mother–much sooner than the man himself does. As a result, viewers are primed to identify with and approve the woman’s rejection of the man’s advances, rather than the man’s misdirected passion. The form of audience manipulation employed in Vertigo and The Miracle is perhaps more subtle than that in The Crying Game, but the effects are the same: the filmmakers’ choices direct the audience’s responses.
The Crying Game is rife with clues about Dil’s sexuality from Jaye Davidson’s first appearance onscreen; in a viewer survey done by Miramax Films and reported in the Chicago Tribune along with their coverage of the film’s Oscar nominations, about 30 percent of the audience had guessed the truth relatively early in the film. But because Jordan chooses not to reveal explicitly the big secret–that Dil is a man–until the moment at which Fergus discovers it, he allows the audience an opportunity to identify with Fergus’s shock and disbelief to an extent that would not be possible if viewers already knew about Dil. We are not privy to Fergus’s thoughts, but because we can share his emotions, the scene opens a variety of questions which do not necessarily lead to the simplistic conclusions about the film’s misogyny and homophobia which Andersen draws. It would be helpful if he paid attention to characters other than the few his article mentions.
Dil and Fergus’s “interracial gender-bending love” has all sorts of complications which have nothing to do with Dil’s biology. Fergus pursues Dil in the first place because of his confusing affection for Jody, Dil’s former lover, for whose death Fergus bears responsibility. His obsession with Jody and guilt over his death haunt him and make him hesitant to pursue a relationship long before the issue of sexuality comes up. In addition, Dil is being pursued by a violent man who threatens both Dil and Fergus.
When Fergus throws up after realizing that Dil is a man, it is difficult to conclude simply that Fergus is upset that a man gave him a blowjob. He is also confronting his obsession with Jody and the recognition of the bond between Jody and himself–a bond which, he now must admit, had a homoerotic basis. (Even without knowing about Dil, the audience figures this one out before Fergus does.) Dil does not “crawl” after Fergus but rather allows him to apologize because, as she says, she believes that he really cares for her–and for Jody’s memory. Fergus’s actions toward Dil do not stem purely out of “pure and chaste” homosexual love, either; they arise from his guilt about Jody and his growing recognition that the IRA will use Dil as a tool to manipulate him, placing her in the same danger as Jody.
Jude, Fergus’s IRA boss and girlfriend, is certainly portrayed as vicious and manipulative; if Andersen wants to view this as a misogynistic portrayal of a woman, fine. But he fails to mention that the men of the IRA are portrayed equally so, and slaughtered just as mercilessly as is Jude. It is Andersen who makes a misogynist statement in asserting that Jude’s sexuality makes her a monster; the film never suggests that, but rather indicates that she, like her terrorist cohorts, is a monster because she wantonly takes life and destroys relationships. Her gender is secondary to her role as an agent of violence.
But the conclusions Andersen comes to about The Crying Game all seem overly simplistic and politically motivated. His accusations of misogyny are based on a very narrow reading of the film in which the sexes are polarized in a series of oppositions; Fergus is “the man,” Jude is “the woman,” Jody is “the gay man,” Dil is “the drag queen.” But the film works hard to break down just such oppositions. Similarly, the film resolutely defers the racial issues to the political issues between the Irish and English, then defers the political tensions to broader philosophical questions about the responsibility of people to causes, the relationship between identity and power, and the extent to which the personal and the political merge. The war in The Crying Game is not between women and men, gay or otherwise; it is between people who would divide society into straight and gay, black and white, Irish and English, men and women, and people who would dare to form bonds outside these categories of thought which cause specious oppositions.
Michelle Erica Green
S. Lake Shore