Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 08:10
Released in 2011, “The Guard” is a black comedy that explores Irish stereotypes and Ireland’s relationship with the outside world, particularly the United States.
The film is set in Connemara, which is located in Western Ireland and has the largest number of Irish speakers of any Irish district. As keepers of an ancient and rare language, the citizens of Connemara live fairly insular lives that are being disrupted by globalization and the development of Ireland.
The film’s opening scene establishes the tension between the tradition and the modern with an auditory and visual clash. A group of teenagers speeds through the hills while listening to profanity−laced rap. Out the window, the viewer can see green, rolling hills and scattered rocks — the quintessential image of Ireland. Seconds later, the teens die in a car crash. So as not to take this metaphor of tradition versus modernity too far, I should mention that the teens were drinking and driving.
The film also focuses on Ireland’s relationship with the United States. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, the protagonist, Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), has already mentioned Barack Obama and Whitey Bulger. This focus makes sense, considering that the movie’s plot revolves around U.S.−Irish collaborative efforts to arrest the members of an international drug cartel.
Specifically, the two collaborators are Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox Irish cop, and Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), an upstanding FBI agent. The two men engage in a great, if not necessarily friendly, repartee early in the film. When Wendell calls Gerry racist, Gerry responds, “I’m Irish, sir. Sure, racism is part of my culture.” Gerry is a stereotypical Irishman: He drinks too much, he’s confrontational and he’s prejudiced, but he loves his mother. “The Guard” makes a joke out of Gerry’s racism as he questions Wendell, who is African−American, about his background. The movie, filmed and produced in Ireland, is a self−critique, if a flippant one.
As an American, I found it interesting to explore the relationship between Ireland and the United States from an Irish perspective. This relationship is elucidated through a series of quotes. In order to discipline his men for their behavior in front of Wendell, the Connemara police chief chastises his men by saying, “Now, lads, not in front of the American.” In this small town, some of the residents are concerned about making a good impression on the cosmopolitan American. Other residents, including Gerry, are resentful of American interference, as evidenced by several townspeople impeding Wendell’s investigation when they pretend not to understand English.
“The Guard” also pokes fun at relations and animosities between Ireland and other nations. Of the film’s three criminals, one of them is English, a fact that the other two lament frequently. In Connemara, people hold strong opinions about outsiders. However, due to its insularity, the audience wonders how much Connemara’s residents are really in touch with international matters. Thus, when the police chief says, “Croatians are like that,” we laugh at his ignorance, while when both Gerry’s mother and the criminals discuss Russian authors, we are surprised and amused.
While the film presents a humorous study of the Irish national character as a whole, its real strength lies in the characterization of Gerry. Gleeson’s deft portrayal of Gerry reveals the sadness behind his humor. When Gerry says that he went to Disney World alone, it is both funny and heart−breaking. The audience grows to love Gerry by watching the way he treats his terminally ill mother. Ultimately, Gerry’s life is incredibly sad, which leads the audience to root for Gerry and Wendell as they try to catch the drug cartel.
Join me in two weeks as I discuss the light−hearted “Waking Ned Devine” (1998).
Megan Clark is a junior majoring in history. She can be reached at Megan.Clark@tufts.edu.