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Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?

‘Waking Ned Devine’

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 08:11

Waking Ned Devine” (1998) is a unique comedy that mixes slapstick silliness with reflections on the meaning of life, death and riches.

While “Waking Ned Devine” was actually produced in England and filmed on the Isle of Man, it is set in Tullymore, a tiny, coastal village in Donegal County. It also predominantly features Irish actors.

When Jackie O’Shea finds out that someone in his 52−person town has just won the lottery, he and his best friend, Michael O’Sullivan, set out to find the winner and ingratiate themselves with him or her. With the help of Jackie’s wife, Annie, they search high and low, dropping lots of money in the process. They are ready to give up when Jackie realizes that they have not yet spoken to Ned Devine, a frequent “lotto” player. He goes to Ned’s simple house and finds Ned clutching his winning lottery ticket, dead of shock. Jackie, Michael and Anna’s attempts to get the money for themselves, and later to share the money with the whole town, drive the plot of the film.

“Waking Ned Divine” treats death with both dignity and humor. At first, Jackie is shaken by how unfair it is that Ned, the simple, poor fisherman, died before he could collect his lottery winnings of about seven million pounds. Then he has a dream in which he and Ned are traveling in a rowboat, floating in a golden sea. Throughout the dream, Jackie is very impatient and nervous, but Ned repeatedly assures him not to worry, the tide will take them where they want to go. When Jackie asks where that is, Ned says, “into the light.” It is a beautiful metaphor for death and the afterlife, and it represents the calm, kind composure that Ned displayed all his life. It is also what inspires Jackie’s ridiculous scheme to inherit the childless Ned’s money — a scheme that involves the hilarious character Michael pretending to be Ned.

Later, when Jackie and Michael bring the rest of the town in on their plan and decide to split the money equally among all its members, the townspeople rejoice at Ned’s death. However, they also celebrate his life. They insist on holding a funeral for him, which becomes a reflection on life, love and friendship.

When the man from the lottery office shows up at the funeral, Jackie, who is giving Ned’s eulogy, is forced to pretend the funeral is for someone else. He begins to give a eulogy for Michael. He reflects that Michael was his best friend but he should have told him more often and continues to innumerate the ways in which Michael has shaped his life. Jackie says it would be interesting to hear your own eulogy and reflects on how sad it is that we do not say what we should until our friends are already dead. Sitting in the front row, listening to his own eulogy, Michael’s eyes well up with tears.

While it has its dramatic moments, “Waking Ned Devine” is also full of slapstick humor and silliness, including the image of a buck−naked Michael speeding through the mountain streets on his motorbike in an attempt to beat the lottery man to Ned Devine’s house.

What I love above all about “Ned Devine” is that it all works out in the end. The lottery man never catches the townspeople in their deception. None of the townspeople inherit the seven million pounds that could change their lives — potentially for the worse — but they all carry on a little bit spiritually richer thanks to Ned Devine.

Join me next week as I review “My Left Foot” (1989), starring Daniel Day−Lewis.

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Megan Clark is a junior majoring in history. She can be reached at Megan.Clark@tufts.edu.

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