Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?
‘Into the West’
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 08:10
Into the West” (1992) is marketed as a family film and — as it features a magical white horse — one can see its appeal to children. However, the film also deals with some very adult topics, such as discrimination, poverty and alcoholism. “Into the West” tells the story of an Irish Traveller family trying to find a balance between their traditions and a more modern way of life.
Irish Travellers are a historically nomadic people who live in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Travellers have most recently been introduced to the American public on the television show “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding,” which showcases elaborate weddings within the Traveller community while largely ignoring the widespread poverty and discrimination that plague this community. Most Travellers could never afford such outlandish celebrations: They usually live in mobile homes in large, urban settlements surrounded by others from their community, and frequently lack proper access to heat and clean water.
“Into the West” begins with a depiction of the coast and the countryside before quickly moving to a Traveller settlement in Dublin. As the film opens, we see an old man collecting mussels by the ocean. When he pauses from his work, he sees a white horse galloping toward him and goes to approach it. The horse runs away but follows him as he leaves the shore. The old man gets into a rounded caravan with a canvas roof, the traditional Traveller mode of transportation. He drives his caravan toward Dublin and looks up at the sky as an airplane passes overhead, a reminder of the clash between the old and new ways.
The action then shifts to a run-down section of Dublin, home to dilapidated high-rise apartments and, across the street from those, a dirt field full of trailers, trash and Traveller children. Here we meet Ossie and Tito, two young boys, and their father, Papa Reilly. Their mother had died seven years before and their father, illiterate himself, oscillates between attempts to educate his children and bouts of neglectful drunkenness. Ossie and Tito often have to fend for themselves. The old man from the opening scene is their grandfather, and he soon appears in the settlement, bringing the white horse, with whom Ossie forms an immediate bond.
The grandfather, a proponent of the old ways, argues with Papa Reilly, accusing him of abandoning the Traveller way of life after his wife’s death. Thus, we see an unhappy and broken family, simultaneously struggling to cope with their grief and the imperatives of modern society. The stage is set for a familial reconciliation, and it will be facilitated by this fantastical horse.
“Into the West” explores family and tradition, as well as several other themes. Papa Reilly experiences discrimination and police brutality, embodied in the persona of Inspector Bolger, the film’s villain. The movie also delves into alcoholism and its effects on families. In one scene, the boys’ neighbor complains of hunger, and Tito matter-of-factly tells him that he needs to accompany his father to the welfare office in order to prevent him from spending all the money on alcohol.
The film also compares the Irish West with the American West. The boys’ grandfather tells them Irish folktales from the West and speaks of it as a freer, untainted place. Later, the boys watch an American western and wonder whether Travellers are the cowboys or the Indians of Ireland. The main action of the film, which features the boys fleeing to the West on horseback, mirrors that of many westerns, as they are cast as noble fugitives fleeing the law.
“Into the West” features simplistic “good guys” and “bad guys” and ends a little too neatly. Nonetheless, it is still a heart-warming movie and an engaging study of Traveller life.
Next week’s film: “The Commitments.”