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Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?

‘The Boxer’

Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 01:12

For my final column, I will review “The Boxer” (1997), another pairing of actor Daniel Day−Lewis and writer−director−producer Jim Sheridan.

At the time of its release, “The Boxer” was very topical and a little controversial due to its subject matter: the final peace talks between the IRA and the British government in the mid−90’s. Although Jim Sheridan’s movies often seek to promote a pro−Ireland, anti−violence message, the politics are usually just a backdrop to a more universally human story. In “The Boxer,” the audience enters the film through Danny, a former boxer who has just been released from jail after fourteen years for unspecified IRA involvement.

Danny, played by Day−Lewis, is in trouble. While he never “snitched” on anyone, he denounced the IRA while in prison. He is no longer welcome in his old neighborhood, a particularly poor, predominately Catholic district of West Belfast. Danny insists on settling down in his old home anyway and soon finds himself in a dire situation. Tensions, already at a head over disagreements about the peace negotiations, rise as Danny and his old coach try to reunite Protestants and Catholics in their non−sectarian boxing club. Worse still, Danny has gotten involved with a “prisoner’s wife” named Maggie.

The study in “prisoner’s wives” that this film provides is illuminating and cerebral. The movie opens with a wedding in a prison. After marrying her incarcerated husband, the bride returns alone and other IRA wives throw her a party. It has all the trappings of a wedding reception, but the music maintains an ominously heavy bass beat. Amid this apparent happiness, something is clearly amiss.

Maggie, who was Danny’s girlfriend before he went to jail, has married someone else and become a prisoner’s wife. In IRA−controlled Belfast, to be a “prisoner’s wife” affords a woman a certain level of respect but also imposes harsh restrictions upon her. She is treated like a war widow and anyone who tries to get involved with her can be punished by death. Maggie, played by Emily Watson, reveals the difficult balancing act and resultant pain of being a prisoner’s wife. If she tries to find happiness with another man, she has been unfaithful to the cause. If she abandons the cause, she had been unfaithful to her husband. Thus her involvement with Danny, who has condemned the violence of the IRA, is doubly damning.

One of the most haunting parts of “The Boxer” is the images it employs. West Belfast is a city of concrete and barbed wire. There is a constant soundtrack of helicopters thrumming overhead, as the British troops follow people from a safely removed distance. It is a failed Orwellian novel — Big Brother is watching, but he has not yet crushed the resistance out of the people.

By far the most haunting image in the film comes at the end. An IRA wife finds her husband’s dead body as a helicopter looks on from above. She wordlessly and tearlessly hides the body with her own, trying to give him some dignity and privacy in death, after a life full of violence.

Jim Sheridan’s “The Boxer” is immensely beautiful. He takes an appropriately hard line against IRA violence and the killings of innocent people. However, he compassionately explores the injustice of life in Northern Ireland that makes these men want to kill.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey through Irish cinema with me — I know I’ve had fun — and if your interest was piqued, I hope you continue to search for more movie craic on your own!

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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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