Independent cinema got pushed into the spotlight in 1992 with The Crying Game. The film was a worldwide hit and proved how worthwhile indie movies could be. It contained a great cast including Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker, and a stunning debut from non-actor Jaye Davidson. Topping off the dream cast is Neil Jordan as director, one of the top contemporary filmmakers.
Like Casablanca, The Crying Game grows more poignant with each viewing. Listen to “When a Man Loves a Woman” in the opening. On a first viewing, we think nothing of the song. But by the next time, knowing the secrets to be revealed, we get the irony of the song. The secret comes from Jordan’s desire to dispel stereotypes with this film.
The incident that sets the plot in motion occurred because of a reliance on stereotypes. Jody (Forest Whitaker) is a British soldier is taken hostage by the IRA while on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland. We come to learn that the IRA targeted Jody not only because he was a British soldier but because he was a black British soldier. He is lured into an ambush by a white woman, the IRA having used the assumption that black men are lustful.
Jude (Miranda Richardson), the woman used as bait, is actually the girlfriend of rookie IRA volunteer Fergus (Stephen Rea). Jude is a dangerous woman to be with. For her, sex and violence go together. Being her boyfriend involves Fergus in the IRA more deeply than he seems to want.
Stephen Rea’s role as Fergus was an extremely difficult one to do right and could have easily gone overboard with drama. But Rea’s performance was worthy of the Oscar nomination it received. It is especially uncanny when he starts indicating that it’s not in Fergus’s nature, so to speak, to be in the IRA. Rea must also be given credit for keeping Fergus’s latent homosexuality on a subliminal level.
This fits well into the main theme of the film which is the unreliability of identity and how identity is a human fabrication. Jody, who before his capture was the target of much racism in Northern Ireland, has a fondness for cricket, an “English” sport. Fergus, on the other hand is partial to the “Irish” sport of hurling. But in the end, this doesn’t matter and captor and hostage form an unusual bond.
Gender is just another identity, says Jordan, that can also be shattered. A foreshadowing to this lesson comes when Fergus finds himself in the uncomfortable position of helping Jody urinate. “Isn’t it funny how these details take on a major importance,” says Jody. This is why Fergus’s eventual decision will be a tough one to make. He has been breaking down sociological barriers, but when the time comes to determine what he should do with Jody he begins to realize that people act upon what’s truly in their nature and this will help to explain a later decision as well.
It’s an emotional and gut-wrenching scene when Fergus is ordered to execute Jody. Both Rea and Forest Whitaker play it with impressive dignity and the power of the scene is finely understated. Here’s a question: would Fergus really have shot Jody if he could? Later on in the movie he says he would have, but perhaps it wasn’t really in his nature. What is certain is that when the British army discovers the hideout, Fergus is in double trouble. The British authorities are after him and the IRA is none too happy with him for the way he handled the hostage situation. Fergus, then, does what so many of Jordan’s protagonists do, and takes on a new identity and hides out in London, where Jody’s lover lives.
Jaye Davidson was a real discovery in this film. With no previous acting experience, Davidson creates Dil as a woman with a history of pain and sorrow in her lifetime. Dil is completely different from anyone that Fergus has ever met. She has no qualms about being herself and disregards superficial identities.
At its very core, The Crying Game is a love story. The “crying game” could refer to the game of love and all of its tribulations. Fergus seeks Dil out as a favor to Jody, to whom he promised he would look after Dil, and then he falls for her. Fergus falls so deeply in love with Dil, in fact, that when Dil’s secret is emerged, it seems so trivial in comparison.
After the revelation, their romance connects Fergus with his inert homosexuality. There were signs of it earlier, however, in his bond with Jody. They continue with Fergus’s homoerotic dreams of Jody playing cricket in slow-motion, but these are also partially representative of Fergus still being haunted by the memory. Could it be that after learning about Dil’s secret, Fergus is fulfilling his missed relationship with Jody through her? Not only does their relationship take on an obvious homosexual undertone, but also one of interracial love. This is a big deal to Jude, who has come to London to seek out Fergus. She too has made a transformation, but still carries sex and violence hand in hand. Her anger is spurred not only by the fact that Fergus left her, but that he left her for a black woman.
In 1992, The Crying Game was a shocking picture and Neil Jordan was brave in making it. Even Fergus’s eyes are opened to a lot of facts when he discovers the truth about Dil. But his shock may also be due to getting in touch with his true self. If gender identity is unreliable than what’s to say that his sexuality is not?
It is this newfound knowledge that makes Fergus realizes how far removed he is from the IRA. Jude now wants him to carry out a suicide mission. Fergus now questions the IRA, while Jude doesn’t even know who she was assigned to kill or why. She simply does what she is told.
There is a trippy inverted gender game when Fergus “changes” Dil into a man to help her hide from the IRA. While he does this, Fergus makes his own revelation to Dil about the role he played in Jody’s capture. It’s telling of society that the secret of Dil’s identity stirred more people than Fergus confessing to being involved with a terrorist group.
Despite ensuing fights, Fergus redeems himself for not letting Jody escape and takes a prison sentence for Dil. Their final scene together is poignant and ends on the hopeful note that they do have a future together. In the closing shots, The Crying Game makes good use of “Stand by Your Man”, which is appropriate for the film it concludes. The Crying Game is not only a brilliant piece of independent filmmaking but also one of the best movies of the 1990s.