loading

Martin McLoone, Reimagining the Nation: Themes and Issues in Irish Cinema, in Cineaste VolXXIV, Nos2-3

One of the ironies in the relationship between cinema and Ireland is the fact that, despite the relative poverty of indigenous film production until the 1980s, Ireland has enjoyed a considerable presence in the cinemas of other cultures, especially that of the U.S. and the U.K., and Irish men and women have exerted perhaps a disproportionate influence on the development of cinema, again especially in the U.S.

The recurrence of Irish-themed films from these countries reflects the large presence there of the Irish diaspora establishing a tradition of representation which has been much commented on and analyzed in academic film studies. John Hill, for instance, makes the point that the American cinema has largely been responsible for a romantic view of Ireland, representing the nostalgic imaginings and nationalist inclinations of the Irish-Americans, while a darker, more somber view of a violent Ireland has largely emanated from the British cinema, a reflection no doubt of Britain’s close political involvement in the affairs of Ireland.

Given the dominance of these recurring images, it is hardly surprising that the emerging generation of filmmakers in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s have sought, directly and indirectly, to challenge this tradition, offering in turn a view of Ireland that is both highly complex and tantalizingly ambiguous. It would be wrong, of course, to see this challenge as the only point of departure for contemporary Irish cinema. If the new cinematic imagination has one eye on the traditions of representation from the outside, it has the other firmly fixed on internal matters, especially on the heritage of Ireland’s own nationalist imaginings and the manner in which these interact with a rapidly changing social and economic reality.

In the earlier part of the century the cultural response of Irish nationalism to the dominance of first British and then American culture was to turn away from the modern world represented by these countries and to look inward for a sense of Irishness that was built on rural self-sufficiency and the strength of its Gaelic past and Catholic present. Contemporary Ireland, on the other hand, is now on the cusp of European modernity with the fastest growing economy in the European Union as well as the youngest population and together these have given rise to a cinema which offers a challenge, not only to the cinéma de papa but also to the laws of the father and the embraces of both Mother Ireland and Mother Church. Even the new orthodoxy in Ireland, built on modernization and secular liberalism, is subject to interrogation and challenge. In this way, contemporary Irish cinema is beginning to emerge as a cinema of national questioning, one that seeks to reimagine the nation in excitingly different

and profoundly challenging ways.

It is worth noting that the increasing volume of production over the last ten years or so is the result of three levels of financing and budgeting and that each of these has its own implications for the resulting film’s content, commercial viability, and its visibility to audiences, both at home and abroad. In big-budget American productions, like Ron Howard’s Far and Away (1991), artistic control has remained outside of Ireland itself but the level of studio and big-star involvement has meant that the films have received wide international exposure. In medium-budget films, often the result of coproduction partnerships, a greater level of artistic control has remained in Ireland.

The films themselves are subsequently more interesting and more complex (as is the case with the films of Neil Jordan, Pat O’Connor, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, or Jim Sheridan) and have made a critical impact that far outweighs their commercial achievements. The films produced wholly within Ireland itself, though, have tended to be low-budget films, very particular in their concerns and dominated by younger writer/ directors determined to hold on to artistic control of both form and subject matter.

This is Ireland’s third cinema relatively unknown outside the country and, with the exception of a few individual films, largely unseen in Irish cinemas either. Their main impact has been at festivals around the world and their main audience is picked up when the films have been screened on Irish or British television. Taken together, then, these medium- and low-budget films represent a genuine national cinema struggling to take shape. The scope of the films’ attempted revisioning of Ireland can be gauged by looking more closely at some of the characteristic issues and concerns which they share.

NEW FORMS, NEW CONTENTS?

In considering the films produced by these medium- and low-budget filmmakers over the last ten to fifteen years, we might schematize their recurring concerns and themes thus: An interrogation of the rural mythology which underpinned cultural nationalism and is encapsulated in the use of landscape.  

A new concern to represent urban experience, which was largely submerged and ignored by this rural mythology, especially the urban experience of the rapidly modernizing contemporary Ireland. A consequent desire to reveal the social and political failures of independent Ireland and latterly to probe the failures and contradictions of the Irish economic miracle. An interrogation of religion in Ireland, especially in relation to education, sexuality, and gender.

The question of women in Ireland, especially in relation to nationalism, Catholic teaching and imagery, and the discourse around women¹s bodies engendered by the abortion debate in Ireland. An interrogation of Irish history and Irish tradition and the conflict between tradition and modernity (often rendered as a generational conflict). The question of Northern Ireland, political violence, and the disputed notions of identity which form the crux of the conflict. A new concern to imagine the nation differently, sometimes in its European context and sometimes probing its special relationship to the U.S. and American culture. A concern with film form itself, especially the desire to work through existing forms in the search for a new or more characteristic esthetic. Like all schema, there is a danger that this one isolates recurring themes in a way that the films themselves do not.

These are intensely interrelated issues and in truth, many Irish films cover a number of them at the same time, while a complex film like The Butcher Boy (1998) touches on most of them. The process of modernization and the fall-out from the conflict in Northern Ireland has resulted in an intellectual and cultural ferment in Ireland where the very notion of what it is to be Irish is a key contemporary debate. New Irish cinema is a product of this larger cultural environment and has begun in various ways to contribute to the continuing debate.

Finally, it is worth noting that Irish filmmakers do not work to any agreed manifesto (other than, perhaps, a shared desire to tell Irish stories to Irish audiences in the first instance). There is a great deal of artistic and political variety in their work and even in a film culture so recently emerged, a clear generational divergence between the first wave of writer-directors of the 1970s and early 1980s and the younger filmmakers of the 1990s. (Kevin Rockett, for example, has argued that the younger filmmakers are more esthetically and politically conservative than their immediate predecessors.) The schema proposed here, therefore, is the result of post hoc critical activity and is not suggested as a program or a prescription for a clearly defined movement.

ROMANTIC IRELAND’S DEAD AND GONE

The beauty of the landscape has long been a defining characteristic in cinematic representations of Ireland. Indeed, the first American film company to shoot on location outside of the U.S. was Sidney Olcott’s Kalem Company in the 1910s, attracted by the commercial returns that such location pictures offered in satisfying the nostalgic yearnings of the large Irish-American audience of the day.

Rural Ireland, of course, played an important ideological role in Ireland itself, linked to the particular nationalist imaginings of the time and representing the essence of what was seen as Ireland¹s difference to the industrialized world of Britain in particular. Despite the continuing modernization of contemporary Ireland, the beauty of rural Ireland (also one of the most underpopulated areas of Europe) remains a key selling point for the tourist and leisure industries. The attractions of Irish locations (together with government subsidies) was instrumental in persuading Mel Gibson and his producers to relocate Braveheart (1994) from its Scottish setting to Ireland. The timelessness of this landscape allowed contemporary Ireland to double as medieval Scotland.

But in contemporary cinema, something extremely interesting has been happening to the representation of rural Ireland. This is encapsulated in one extraordinary image in Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy. A high-angle, panoramic shot reveals a familiar image of Ireland’s natural beauty (green hills and valley, azure blue lake). It is a shot which calls to mind the dominant cinematic tradition that goes all the way back to Kalem and yet resembles, also, the tourist gaze of contemporary brochures (not least the airbrushed style of John Hinde postcards). As the shot is held the lake suddenly erupts in the mushroom of a nuclear explosion, shattering the idyllic composition. This sequence is linked narratively to the increasingly wild imaginings of the film’s protagonist (discussed in detail in my article in Cineaste, Vol. XXIII, No. 4) but, in purely cinematic terms, it is tempting to see this disruption as symptomatic of a more general and sometimes equally perverse rereading of the landscape.

This has been especially the case in the films of two of the first wave directors, Joe Comerford and Bob Quinn, both of whom have chosen to work largely in the West of Ireland and have attempted to lay bare the accretions of myth and cultural significance which the West has held in Irish consciousness. Thus, in Reefer and the Model (1988) and High Boot Benny (1993), Comerford, with an almost postmodern playfulness, subjects the landscape to an encounter with an array of miscreants and social outcasts, aimless drifters, cynical politicos, the wretched and the dispossessed seemingly devised for their perversity to the role models of Catholic nationalism. In Reefer and the Model there is a studiously perverse symbol of Mother Ireland herself in the pregnant, ex-drug addict, ex-prostitute character of The Model (although the representation here raises some of the concerns about gender representations discussed elsewhere in this supplement by Ruth Barton). In particular, High Boot Benny’s minimalist, bleak, windswept landscapes are in stark contrast to traditional views of rural Ireland.

In Hush-a-Bye Baby (1989), Margo Harkin’s harrowing account of the pressures felt by a pregnant teenager in Catholic Derry, there is an interesting cinematic reflection on rural Ireland as a refuge from urban pressures. The protagonist, Goretti Friel, goes to the Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) to escape the encircling oppression of her hometown, and the beautiful scenery she encounters there is reminiscent of the rural utopia of John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952). However, unlike Ford’s hero, Sean Thorton, the rural retreat provides Goretti with no peace of mind and the pressures continue to mount. In one beautifully realized scene, the pregnant teenager sits on a beach, depressed and worried. The camera begins a slow zoom in on her anxious face, its encroaching movement intercut by shots of the waves lapping over the stones on the beach. The contrast between the supposed recuperative powers of nature and the emotional crisis faced by Goretti is stark and moving. The beautiful landscapes and seascapes of Ireland are stripped of their romantic connotations as Goretti’s emotional turmoil becomes more acute.

In Paddy Breathnach’s I Went Down (1997) an urban gangland thriller spills over into the elemental boglands and woods of rural Ireland, culminating in a series of cross and double-crosses that is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990). The landscape here is resonant with the dirty deeds of contemporary urban humanity rather than heroic deeds of ancient history or the beauty of a bountiful Nature. One of the more interesting visual reworkings of the Irish landscape, however, is in Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s December Bride (1989).

The film is set in turn-of-the-century Ireland, filmed on location in and around Strangford Lough, near Belfast, and concerns the scandalous relationship between a young woman, Sarah, and the two unmarried brothers she keeps house for, Frank and Hamilton Echlin. Since this unconventional relationship takes place within a close-knit Presbyterian community, O’Sullivan’s use of the landscape already challenges conventional portrayals which associate such rural beauty with Catholic, nationalist Ireland. On occasions throughout the film, however, O’Sullivan interjects a series of painterly compositions which draw further attention to the landscape and the manner in which it is populated. Typically in these shots a character is framed in a somber sunset against the darkening skyline, beating furiously on a Lambeg drum, which echoes off the hills around him.

These shots are open to a number of interpretations. The drumming, both seen and heard, can be read as the defiant sounds of human culture, imposing itself on the sublime beauty of nature, asserting the stubborn presence of humanity in a romantic composition that traditionally has elided its presence, both visually and aurally. It can also be read as the recalcitrant sounds of Ulster Protestants, imposing their presence and beating out a reminder of their historical triumph over this land, over these hills, over the wilderness of nature. From the point of view of Catholic, nationalist Ireland, of course, these drums represent the strident militancy of sectarian politics an image that contrasts the beautiful with the socially threatening. It is tempting, however, to see these shots as an ironic play with the traditions of representation that have dominated the image of rural Ireland for many years and which have been central to a nationalist sensibility since the Literary Revival and beyond. Thus, the insertion of Orange drums and a devout Presbyterian community into the Irish landscape is a reminder that the industrial workers of Belfast are only part of the Protestant story and that the romantic nationalism of Catholic Ireland is only part of the story of the Irish landscape.

It is equally tempting to see in December Bride another ironic reference to the canon of Irish romantic imagery, this time in the form of the cinema’s most famous and most enduring representation, The Quiet Man. This can be seen in the sequence in which Frank, having been ostracized by his devout community because of his scandalous relationship, attempts to reestablish contacts with his neighbors at the Twelfth of July celebrations. The scenes are shot outdoors on the shores of the lough, their flat sandy beaches and low undulating sand dunes recalling the horse-race locations in Ford’s film. This time, though, Ford’s gallery of Irish stereotypes is replaced by bowler-hatted Orangemen, somber farmers, and a strident orator. The communal farce of the horse race is replaced by the earnest marching and the banners of the Orange parade.

The allusion to The Quiet Man goes further than this, however. Just as the horse race in the Ford film contains a bizarre courtship ritual, so too does the communal celebrations of the Presbyterians in December Bride. In The Quiet Man, the young women of Innisfree put up their bonnets on poles at the finishing line, the winner of the horse race having the choice of whose bonnet to collect and whose favors to pursue. In December Bride, the young women put up their shawls, which are then laid on the ground equidistant from the young men seeking their favors. At a given signal, the men charge for these shawls from opposite sides, the winner being the one who emerges from the ensuing scrum with the shawl held aloft.

In The Quiet Man, Mary Kate has to be cajoled into putting up her bonnet and similarly, in December Bride, Molly, the young woman who has taken Frank’s fancy, has also to be coaxed into putting up her shawl. The sequences diverge from this point on, of course. In the Ford film, the bonnet sequence, typical of the general atmosphere of play and comic deceit which dominates the film, is an elaborate ruse that has been designed by the community to bring the lovers together. In O’Sullivan’s film, Frank’s success in the shawl ritual eventually leads to his crippling injuries andhis final withdrawal from the community. But the similarities, both in setting and in narrative progression, are striking enough to alert the audience (especially the audience familiar with The Quiet Man) to the fact that a wholly different people have wandered into a recognizably Irish film.

The esthetic, political, and ideological implications are profound. To this extent as well, despite the televisual genesis of December Bride, it is one of the most intensely cinematic of recent Irish films not just because of its careful and studied cinematography, but because its complex themes are presented visually as well as narratively, and because its wonderful cinematography is itself engaged in a debate precisely about the cinema’s traditional representation of Ireland and the Irish. And in peopling a recognizably Irish landscape with a Northern Protestant community, ultimately the film challenges sedimented assumptions about both.

Not all contemporary films, however, are engaged in this kind of interesting reassessment of traditional romantic imagery. The dominant mode still recurs, whether in the guise of a big-budget Hollywood epic like Far and Away or more modest films like Peter Chelsom’s Hear My Song (1989) and John Irvin’s Widow’s Peak (1993). And disappointingly, given his track record in making politically-astute, revisionist films in the U.S., this is also a major problem with John Sayles’s The Secret of Roan Inish (1995). But the most interesting films, especially those that have come out of Ireland itself, offer more complex rereadings of Irish landscape and explore in more detail the esthetic, ideological, and cultural implications of Ireland’s rural traditions.

COMING-OF AGE AND GENERATIONAL CONFLICT

David Keating’s Last of the High Kings (1996), based on Ferdia MacAnna’s novel, illustrates a number of key themes that have emerged in more recent years. This is basically a coming-of-age film, set in the summer of 1977 just at a point when the modernization process in Ireland was slowing down and the Irish economy was hit by a stagnation that was to drag on for the best part of a decade. Like all such films, the protagonist is caught between two worlds - that of family and childhood on one side and the beckoning adult world beyond.

Frankie Griffin is seventeen and spending the summer of his Leaving Cert examinations dreading the results and worrying about his future. His is an amiably dishevelled family (rather than a dysfunctional one) in which his well-intentioned but rather ineffectual father, an actor, is away from home a lot of the time and his mother is an unpredictable but assertive woman of very pronounced traditional views (staunch Catholic, arch Republican, and unbendingly anti-British). Against this ramshackle family life, Frankie struggles to achieve his own identity.

It is a summer of both stasis and change. His mother’s political allies in Fianna Fail return to power in an election, mouthing the nationalist banalities of the past. More importantly for Frankie, though, he loses his virginity, falls in love (events clearly not related to each other), and Elvis Presley dies. When his examination results come through, he has done well enough to go to college and his future beyond his parental home begins to take shape. The film is comically poised at a moment of change, when the old and the familiar, the new and the innovative, coexist, struggling for ultimate supremacy. Change will eventually win this struggle and after his first sexual experience, Frankie notes, “Nothing will be the same again.” In relation to the death of Elvis, Frankie’s pal, an Elvis-obssessive, declares, “It is the end of an era.”

This kind of sentiment is, of course, a standard aspect of the coming-of-age film and, when set in the recent past, the events are inevitably viewed with the benefit of hindsight. Thus, in American movies set in the early 1960s, like George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973) the nostalgia is viewed through the prism of the Vietnam War and with the knowledge of the horrors to come. In Lucas’s film, this knowledge contributes to the air of sadness and sense of loss which permeates the whole film and severely undercuts the optimism with which the characters view their future. Despite its setting in the early 1960s, the film is very much a product of the disillusioned 1970s.

What is remarkable about Last of the High Kings is its unqualified optimism and the sense that the future is there to be grabbed, molded, and remade. Hindsight affirms that tomorrow will, indeed, belong to the young and in this way the film is a true marker of the mood in Ireland in the 1990s as much as it is of the transitional period of the 1970s. Just as American Graffiti can be read a metaphor for America as well as a nostalgic look back at a specific moment in recent history, so too Last of the High Kings invites a metaphorical reading as a statement on the transition from a traditional to a modern Ireland. The film is not, of course, a political film in the strict sense nor is it a po-faced state-of-the-nation tract. It is a comedy and one that deliberately demands a series of over-the-top performances from its adult leads. Catherine O’Hara is sometimes demented in her portrayal of Frankie’s overbearing mother, Gabriel Byrne hams it up as his actor father and, in a side-splitting cameo, Stephen Rea is outrageous as a fantasizing Dublin taxi driver with an accent three times thicker than any to be found in the back streets off O’Connell Street.

As a metaphor of the nation, the Griffin family is eccentric and slightly askew rather than dysfunctional or abusive. The exaggerated behavior of the parents is the perception of the better-adjusted son. It is he (and thus the younger generation which he represents) who brings about reconciliation and stability at the end. The mother’s faintly ludicrous sectarian politics, the taxi driver’s self-deluding fantasies, and the sexually-repressed hypocrisies of Colm Meaney’s Fianna Fail politician belong to the old Ireland that, like Elvis and like Frankie’s virginity, has passed away.

 It is hardly surprising, given the youthfulness of the Irish population and the youth of many of the first-time directors who have emerged in the last decade or so, that the coming-of-age and generational conflict themes should be recurring motifs in so much recent cinema. As far back as 1987, Fergus Tighe produced the first Leaving Cert summer film with Clash of the Ash (interestingly less optimistic then than Keating’s film of a decade later). In Owen McPolin’s Drinking Crude (1997), the protagonist, Paul, spends his Leaving Cert summer on the road in Ireland cleaning out the insides of oil storage tanks, an odd excursion into an unknown environment on the fringes of industrial Ireland, which ends again in the triumph of youth over the jaded expectations of an older generation. Paul’s journey of self-discovery appropriates another cinematic trope of the road movie: the gathering together of an alternative family on the way. This begins when he is rescued from penury by Al, a streetwise Scottish laborer who becomes a surrogate father for Paul and teaches him the oil-tank cleaning business as well as the skills necessary to survive on the road. Later Al and Paul are joined by young mother Karen and her baby, fleeing from an abusive husband. Certainly, this is no Josey Wales but the building of an alternative family conceived outside the strictures of an unfeeling and uncaring society is a familiar device for encapsulating an alternative imagining of the nation.

The most interesting of these films is Johnny Gogan’s The Last Bus Home (1997), which uses the metaphor of a punk band to articulate the reimagining of the family/ nation in which an angry and determined younger generation are engaged. This is the most directly political of the youth films and manages a delicate balance between the opposing forces. On one hand, it retains a healthy skepticism about the new dawn offered by the youth of Ireland while at the same time it is unstinting in its criticism of the Ireland of the older generation that they aim to disrupt and supplant. Punk rock, of course, carries its own set of antiestablishment codes and what the film values is the manner in which the young people come together under these codes in response to the failures of their parents’ generation.

The film opens in 1979, on the day the Pope visited Ireland and celebrated Mass to over one million people in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. There is an impressive sequence near the beginning of the film which beautifully illustrates the generational conflict at the center of the film. Gogan shows the empty streets of the Dublin suburbs on the afternoon of the Mass, its utter desolation eloquently commenting on the desolation felt by young punk Reena as she wanders the streets alone. Anyone who has stayed away from the park, however, has already made a political statement of some significance and, in this way, the members of the punk band find each other and begin to build their alternative family. (The band call themselves “The Dead Patriots,” which may be a nod to The Dead Kennedys but is significant enough in itself.) The film tracks their progress over the next few years, dealing with the implications of the economic downturn, especially the threat of emigration, and struggling with a rock business disinclined to support their music and only too eager merely to exploit the band.

The film, then, is another exploration of young people’s struggle to find their identity and mark their difference from their parents generation. What is interesting about the film, however, is the fact that the band itself does not represent unblemished virtue nor does it have access to all the answers. The drummer’s quest for personal identity involves coming to terms with his gayness and when his parents reject him he seeks comfort in the alternative family of the band. Homophobia is not generation-specific, however, and when the lead singer, loud, brash, self-centred Jessop, rejects his friend publicly, feeling threatened himself by his homosexuality, the result ends in tragedy. This is a refreshing corrective to the can-do optimism of some of the other youth films.

In the rather sad coda which ends the film, set a few years later, when the surviving band members have settled into the yuppie world of contemporary Dublin, the former punk rebels have made their peace with the consumerist society slowly emerging in the wake of economic regeneration, their rebelliousness totally recuperated to the new orthodoxy. Another interesting aspect of The Last Bus Home is that it is set in the working-class suburb of Tallaght and, while class conflict is touched on around the edges of some of the other films, it is here a central theme, giving an added piquancy to the end coda. It is worth noting one other aspect of these generation-conflict films. Very often, the crisis of identity faced by the young protagonist is exacerbated by the fact that one of the parents is missing.

In Last of the High Kings, Frankie’s actor father is away for much of his pivotal summer, which throws the conflict with his rhetoric-spouting mother into sharper relief. In Martin Duffy’s The Boy from Mercury (1996) the father is dead and part of young Harry’s crisis is occasioned by having to accompany his mother so often to pay homage at the graveside, reinforcing for the boy the fact that his family is incomplete. In the most celebrated of these films, Neil Jordan’s The Miracle (1991) the mother is supposedly dead and the conflict between father and son is played out against his secretiveness about her and her enigmatic absence. In Paddy Breathnach’s I Went Down the dead father is replaced by the father figure of a Dublin gangster, Bunny Kelly, who takes on the role of teaching the young Git Hynes the skills necessary to survive in Ireland’s gangland turf wars. And even in Damian O’Donnell’s highly-acclaimed, extremely funny and irreverent short, 35-Aside (1995), the father’s absence in prison occasions the crisis for young Philip that is so splendidly resolved by his resourceful mother.

The picture, then, that emerges from these films is one of incompleteness. The generational conflict is occasioned not by the presence of traditional, conservative parents but rather because of the absence of one of them. It is almost as if the films read Ireland’s older generation as the one which is in need of rescue and repair, that the task of reestablishing stability to the nation will fall on the shoulders of the young precisely because they are unencumbered by the neuroses and inadequacies of their parents who are responsible, knowingly or not, for the sense of incompleteness that hangs over the family of the nation.

CULTURAL IDENTITY

The process of reimagining the nation discussed here inevitably touches on the kind of cultural identity that is experienced, valued, or promoted by the younger generation. Ireland is now a long way from de Valera’s notion of frugal self-sufficiency and its economic advance has been the result of massive inward investment from Europe, Asia, and especially the U.S. The price paid for this is that the country has entered the global economy and the global marketplace of popular culture. Many of the films discussed here have been reflections on the cultural implications of this change. Central to this sense of identity is the looming presence of American popular culture and the implications of this forms one central thread of Neil Jordan’s multilayered The Butcher Boy.

The problem with American popular culture is that its dominant position in Irish culture can be read in either of two ways. On one hand, it can be seen to represent a form of cultural imperialism that thwarts the development of indigenous culture and merely reaffirms that prosperity in Ireland has been gained at the expense of national difference. On the other hand, the essentialist identity proposed by Catholic Nationalism and the Gaelic revival was so insular and stifling that the greater encroachment of American popular culture has been positively liberating. It has to be said that the balance of recent Irish cinema would seem to favor the latter, though the contradiction is never really lost sight of. Again, this is most thoroughly worked through in The Butcher Boy but the importance of Elvis and other icons of rock music is central to the young people in Last of the High Kings and contrasts greatly with the sentimental rebel ballads of the older generation.

Similarly, in The Last Bus Home, punk music is offered as the most effective riposte to the religiosity of the parents praying with the Pope in Phoenix Park. The theme is again central to The Boy From Mercury, where Harry escapes the malaise of his incomplete family by losing himself in American sci-fi films and Westerns. In a culture which validates the afterlife more than the material world and which spends most of the time venerating the past and the dead, it is hardly surprising that young Harry should fantasize that he is really from Mercury and merely passing through Earth temporarily.

There is another interesting recent development in Irish cinema’s exploration of this American theme. Over the last few years, a number of Irish and Irish-American films have been concerned to probe the relationship between the two countries through the presence of the Irish diaspora and the implications of the large-scale emigration to the U.S. This is an important theme in Cathal Black’s impressive Korea (1995) but has emerged in the last two years in a series of films originating in the USA itself.

© 2017 Northern Ireland Screen. All Rights Reserved