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Who wouldn't like a fairy tale city?

Your Humble Blogger finally saw In Bruges, Martin McDonagh’s first movie. Mr. McDonagh, if you remember, is the fellow who wrote The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as The Beauty Queen of Linnane and The Pillowman and other blood-drenched plays of recent acclaim. I’d been wanting to see the movie partly because of Mr. McDonagh’s genius at dialogue, partly because of the cast, and partly because of the medieval architecture. You know, Bruges. Or fucking Bruges; I’m guessing that somebody somewhere along the line said “Martin, lad, you can’t call the fillum In Fucking Bruges, they won’t be able to put it on the fucking marqee, will they?” And presumably Mr. McDonagh agreed to cut the title down to its current state, and the signs were printed, and all. I’m not sure why they bothered. I mean, I loved the movie. But as my Best Reader asked at the end of it, who did they think was going to buy tickets to this?

I don’t suppose any of y’all saw it. It’s too bad. Not that I think many of you would have liked it, I suppose. But it would be nice to chat about it.

There are a lot of things I’m interested in particularly that Mr. McDonagh is playing with. For one thing, as a playwright making a movie, the questions around the basic differences between the forms come up, whether he wants them to or not. And as a playwright, and one with a gift for dialogue, he naturally has a lot of the drama come from conversations between his main characters. And as a moviemaker, he also has those characters shoot at each other. I had been about to write that it was cinematic in being very much in Bruges, with a substantial sense of place. Thinking about it, though, I could imagine a good theatrical production providing a substantial sense of place, and of the movement through the old city, in a way that might be even more effective. No, the thing doesn’t feel like a filmed play, but I think that has more to do with the guns than the scenery.

Another thing is the poetry of profanity, the rhythm and feel of it. The fine gradation of abuse. There’s a lovely scene, near the end, when the old hit man and the boss are sitting at an outdoor table of a bistro (is that the right word? I might call it a cafe, but that seems wrong. They serve food, and coffee, I’m sure, but most of the patrons are having beer or liquor) discussing, well, the old hit man was supposed to kill the young hit man but he didn’t, and now the boss has to kill the old hit man for disobeying him, and the old hit man is trying to explain why that’s all right. Anyway, the old hit man, whose name is Ken by the way, is talking to Harry, his boss, and saying that the young hit man is, you know, young, and although he is terribly, terribly guilty, there is the possibility of redemption in his future, while for Ken and Harry, not so much.

Ken: Harry, let’s face it. And I’m not being funny. I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now, and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Harry: Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!
Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.
Harry: Insult my fucking kids? That’s going overboard, mate!
Ken: I retracted it, didn’t I?

OK, but I really liked it. And keep in mind, Ken is not going to live through the night, and he knows it.

That basic idea, by the way, of change, redemption, guilt, all that, is the heart of the film. As writers do, he’s brought it to a froth by raising the stakes beyond our ordinary lives. I mean, for one thing, they are all killers. Ray (the young hit man) has earned the wroth of Harry because when he killed a priest (on Harry’s order), he accidentally killed a little boy as well. Harry’s code of honor says that you don’t walk away from killing a little boy, so Ray has to be killed. When Ken refuses to kill him, Harry’s code of honor says that Harry has to go and kill Ken, and what’s more, do it himself, rather than sending yet another hit man. Harry’s relentless honor results, of course, in more deaths than just the two hit men he’s aiming for, and he has to abide by the results of that in his code as well. Ken believes in the possibility of redemption, although not for himself. Ray doesn’t really believe in the possibility of redemption, although he doesn’t know what he believes, and is coming (I think) to regret not knowing what he believes, as he has nothing to tell him how to behave. He isn’t able to adopt Harry’s inflexible code, but he doesn’t have anything to replace it with that might provide him with some structure.

Lastly, speaking about the inflexible code that the hit men live with (or can’t live with), the three of them are unbelievably homophobic. I’m not sure that homophobic is even the right word. There is a thing, gayness, that doesn’t so much have anything to do with sexual attraction between men, but deviation from the Code or the expectations of manliness in any way. Light beer is referred to as “gay beer”, for instance. For another, a punk who gets his gun taken away from him is referred to as gay, by virtue of his having had his gun taken away from him. It’s not absolutely clear that he isn’t gay, or at least interested in having sex with men. Of course, having sex with men isn’t necessarily gay, particularly if the sex is rough and/or non-consensual. I’m not saying that there isn’t homophobia at the bottom of it, what with the idea of homosexual men being a fundamental violation of the rightness of things, but the homophobia is curiously divorced from the actual homosexual men or actual homosexuality and transferred to light beer and incompetence.

Well, and it’s probably obvious to Gentle Readers that I want to go on and on about this movie, ideally to people who have seen it and all. But I doubt that’ll happen.

I also say a movie called Seducing Dr. Lewis, which turned out not to be a bad porno but a rather sweet, gentle French Canadian movie along the lines of Brassed Off or Waking Ned Devine. I’d enjoy chatting about that one, too (the class issues don’t get resolved so much as dropped, what’s up with that?), but I figure there’s really no chance anybody will have seen that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I totally wanted to see that while it was in the theater, but, you know. Five-year-old. I fully intend to rent it one day, and if I remember, I'll happily talk to you about it then.


Two things, both involving the casual use of offensive language (y'been warned):

One: That really is a lovely bit of dialogue. Have you read (I'm as sure you haven't as you're sure (quite rightly) that I haven't seen the Dr. Lewis bit) And the Ass Saw the Angel, by Nick Cave? There's an amazing line where the viewpoint character says "Listen, I don't mean to speak ill of the dead, but have I told you my mother was one whopping whale of a cunt?"

I shared that little gem with a creative writing class I was taking some time after I read it, and none of them took to it. The professor, who is a published writer, to his credit, although I think one somewhat more obscure than Nick Cave, started referring to me, obliquely, as "the asshole and the angel." Funny, sure, but he's no Nick Cave, is all I'm saying.

Two: It seems that this kind of homophobia-that's-not-homophobia thing you refer to is related to the racism-that's-not-racism thing involved in the use of the word "nigga" among African-American youth. It's clearly not directly analogous, as there isn't really a positive use of the word "gay" in the gay-as-insult-unrelated-to-homophobia crowd; plus, the g-a-i-u-h crowd didn't co-opt a term of hatred directed at thier subculture and turn it into a double-edged sword, the way nigga's been done with in the street. So.

However, I've been substitute teaching for the city recently, and although Roanoke's no Compton, no Shaw, no Harlem, neither; nevertheless, these schools could fairly be called "inner-city," and... well, there's some language used, and I've been deconstructing it, as is my wont.

The kids use it casually as an insult, between each other, which is a racial thing: a black kid wouldn't say dismissively to some white peer, "Shut up, you dumb nigga," the way they do to each other, unless they wanted to start a fight. It may be used as a mark of acceptance with white folk, albeit an ironic one, as when one kid, after I treated him fairly, said to me, "You my nigga.*" This usage is vaguely racial, since I'm an outsider being accepted into the group, grudgingly, but it's used in the same way, more emphatically, within the subculture. When the kids refer to each other in the third person, "he's my nigga," it is more meaningful than when they refer to me that way, for instance. Another usage is when it is used as a non-casual insult, which is tinged with respect when used towards a white guy. The assistant principal at Taylor, for instance, is an enormous, older, bald, white guy, who may once have been a police officer, a prize fighter, or football coach. You know the type. At any rate, he gets referred to as "that white nigga, Mr. Owens." They don't like the guy, but they respect him, or at least tread lightly around him. The security guard was also "that white nigga," but his name isn't known, or at least not used, and he sometimes gets referred to as "Mini-Owens." He isn't liked, feared, or respected.

Complex word, that.


* This conversation actually bears quoting entirely.

The kid in question, call him Wy, had been my problem for a few days, and we both knew it. The class I was subbing for was a computer lab, and my rule the whole time was that they had to do their assignments before I let them on the Internet. Wy hadn't been doing his assignments, and I'd been turning off his computer and locking it (as I'd been doing with others) the whole time he was there. Today, it being Friday, I gave them the worksheet and told them they could go ahead and get on the Internet, as long as they turned in their worksheet.

Said Wy, "We got to finish it first?"
"It's Friday, go ahead," said I.
"You my nigga."
"I's a cracker."
"Kiss my ass."

You will be relieved to note that I did not kiss his ass, but he did turn in the worksheet. Although I suspect he copied Uniqua's (also not her real name) work.

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