Ideologies and personal agendas collide in the film '71
Directed by Yann Demange (Roadside Attractions, 2015)
The political thriller ’71 opens with soldiers training in the English countryside to be deployed to Germany to stand guard against the Soviet Union. Instead they are dispatched to Northern Ireland to suppress escalating violence between Catholics and Protestants. The only reaction this change provokes among some of the troops is disappointment, and from the film’s protagonist, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), it provokes no reaction at all. We learn little about Hook as he runs for his life through a treacherous Catholic neighborhood in Belfast after he’s separated from his unit. He is from Derbyshire. He has a younger brother in foster care. He thinks David Bowie is all right, though his music is mostly for girls.
For a movie about an ideological conflict, the only character with any ideological commitment is an unnamed little boy who has spent his short life marinating in anti-Catholic hatred after the Irish Republican Army murdered his father. Voicing ideological propaganda in the piping utterances of an 8-year-old nicely underscores its corrosiveness and its futility. The adult combatants seem to have abandoned any belief in a cause, turning God and country into mere cover for their own power plays.
As we learn, the conflation of ideological violence and personal agendas intensifies the danger for Hook, as the IRA, Protestant paramilitaries, and the British Army race to find him. It also renders them forces of utter destruction in the lives of the civilians they purport to be defending. In a brief and powerful scene, a Catholic father and daughter find
Hook on the sidewalk, injured and unconscious. “We don’t know him,” the daughter protests, as the father stops to help.
’71 offers a gripping study of how a society dominated by violent score-settling, be those scores historic or personal, can turn even the most basic acts of compassion into potentially fatal mistakes.
This column appeared in the June 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 6, page 42).
Image: Courtesy of Dean Rogers/Roadside Attractions
Monday, June 1, 2015