MOVIE REVIEW: THE CRYING GAME
This film is a brilliant and thrilling sexual mystery, a blockbuster that exposes queer and mainstream audiences alike to an attractive fantasy of alternative sexuality. Some writers in the gay press criticized Neil Jordan for shrouding his film in secrecy during its opening run. However, as viewers will know by now, the secrecy does not merely participate in heterosexist power structures by making transvestism a guilty secret, the secrecy was integral to the pleasure of the film itself. In fact, not knowing some anatomical facts about the protagonist Dill is all-important to the film's construction of a complex web of gender, race, sexuality, and nationality.
Dill, of course, the woman with whom the male protagonist (Fergus) falls hopelessly in love, is anatomically male. There are all kinds of clues that let the discerning or queer viewer in on this secret and yet the narrative is able to maintain the illusion of Dill's femininity for the viewer who cannot tell the difference. Dill's transvestism, then, allows for at least two viewing experiences and this is why it works on both mainstream heterosexual audiences and queer audiences.
The fact that Dill is anatomically male throws all other identities in the film into doubt. In fact the film is a scathing critique of identity politics; accordingly, its backdrop--IRA terrorism--must be read in the light of this critique. If gender identities are uncertain, and if sexual instincts often lead us astray, then how much less reliable are concepts like national identity? This point is made very well in the opening sequence that shows IRA members kidnapping an English soldier who happens to be black. Jody, the soldier, points out the irony of his position by saying that, because of pervasive racism, most English people would not be comfortable with the idea of a black icon of Englishness.
The homoerotic bond that develops between Fergus and Jody in the film's beginning seems vaguely offensive while we still think that Jody and Fergus are straight. These scenes of course resonate with many homoerotically charged moments in film history and so it is particularly satisfying that the early homoeroticism builds to an extremely queer pitch as Fergus searches out Jody's lover, Dill, after Jody is killed. Dill is Jody's revenge; Dill is the snare that awaits all literal readings of bodies, sexes, races, nationalities. Dill attracts Fergus and then reveals to Fergus the possibility of misdirecting desire. Biology in this film, of course, is not destiny because Fergus seems to desire Dill in spite of his belief in his own unwavering heterosexuality.
Dill's performance of femininity is awesome. Dill simply is a woman; she is sexy as a woman and strangely pathetic when Fergus cuts her hair and makes her dress up as a boy in order to disguise herself at the end of the film. Femininity in this film is always powerful (the female terrorist is the IRA's most lethal weapon) and masculinity is oddly manipulable and unstable. When Fergus cuts Dill's hair off to make her into a sad looking boy, it appears that masculinity or maleness is defined as castration. When Fergus reappears at the end in full drag and with her hair grown out, she is restored to feminine glory.
The Crying Game takes queer film to another level because it allows the viewer to see how s/he participates in constructions of identity. We, the viewers, stabilize Dill's ambiguity into "female," we demand that characters be read according to rigid codes of identification. But essentialism is not only misguided, it can lead us to oppose or validate certain performances for all the wrong reasons. Essentialism, the belief in biological sex, the desire to stabilize ambiguous sexualities, can be dangerous.
Director: Jordan, Neil
Starring: Stephen Rea ; Miranda Richardson ; Jaye Davidson