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Resurrection Man

By Marc Evans, 1998

Arriving amid a welter of unfavourable reviews, and running for only one week, twice daily at UCI Tallaght, it would seem Resurrection Man, directed by Welshman Marc Evans, and scripted by Eoin McNamee from his own brilliant 1994 novel, never stood a chance of gaining any kind of audience acceptance in this country. (Whither the IFC, whither The Screen?) Which is a great pity, since it is perhaps the first screen representation of relatively recent events in Northern Irish history that has been made expressly for grown-ups. This is because, paradoxically, it is not really about violence in the North at all, but recognises that that violence has very little to do with the political and socio-economic context in which it takes place, but is more an immutable trait in individual human psychology, which would seek to find circumstances anywhere, any place, any time, that would help to sponsor and legitimise it. Thus a specific instance of aberrant and deviant behaviour is universalised, showing the arbitrariness of this particular set of origins.




It has long been accepted that paramilitary groupings on either side of the so-called sectarian divide in Northern Ireland are little more than fronts for organised crime, who profiteer from extortion and protection rackets. But if the ideology and mythology of fighting for a cause can be used to cloak Mafia-style activity, it can also provide useful camouflage for various forms of psychopathology. In a recent piece in The Irish Times on filmic treatments of Northern Ireland, Fintan O’Toole criticised the character of the female IRA terrorist in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, as being little more than a dominatrix figure from male fantasy. But this was to miss an essential point of Jordan’s film, which is central to Resurrection Man too. For, if there is a politics of sexuality, there is also a sexuality of politics. If the desire to right wrong can be seen as analogous to sex in a loving relationship, then killing for the sake of killing can be seen as analogous to sadism. Killing to right wrong has long since had very little to do with the Northern situation, except where it can be exploited by vested interests. And just as these vested interests manipulate misplaced idealism, they can make equally good use of aspiring psychopaths. Of course, the distinctions get blurred, and it’s rarely as simple as that. How many freedom fighters know they’re psychos, and vice versa? And if the terrorist is the transgressor in the political arena, how transgressive are squaddies, who kill with the backing of a democratically elected government, but are really just Pit Bull terrier keeping, lager swilling, low rent De Sades? And if the sadomasochist is the transgressor in the sexual arena, how transgressive are many married couples, whose bedrooms are little more than minefields of dominance and submission? And how many of these sponsored supposed transgressives know they’re psychos, and vice versa?
Back to Resurrection Man. Stuart Townsend is excellent as Victor Kelly, capturing the fine balance of edginess and smarminess exactly right. The product of a household classically Freudian in its recipe for an extreme outcome, Victor is the only child of a doting, indulgent Protestant mother, and a weak, marginalised Catholic father. Brenda Fricker is outstanding as the adamant, vehement mother, a study in control and controlling. Victor soon finds McClure (Sean McGinley), who with his fondness for imperialistic anthems and Nazi memorabilia, helps to channel Victor’s anti-social tendencies. Heather (Geraldine O’Rawe) is Victor’s sometime girlfriend, and Ryan (James Nesbitt) a drunken wife-beating journalist who writes up the unfolding story of the knife murders for his newspaper, his interest as voyeuristic, a RUC officer points out, as that of his audience. Granted, Victor and his mother are the only two fully fleshed out characters, but this is a morality play, so cardboard cut-out ciphers will suffice to surround them, especially since that is how they view these people anyhow.
The perennial cliched gripe remains, that the film is not as good as the book, the repetition of the various victims’ plea “Kill me, kill me” in particular loosing some of its hypnotic force when transposed from page to screen. But, as McNamee said in a television interview about adapting his novel for the screen, “The money’s good”. He also commented, in a seminar held recently in Cork, that the difference between writing a novel and a screenplay is that with the latter, at the end of the day you’ve finished a page. The deficiencies resultant on the shift from one medium to the other are ameliorated somewhat by the dark, fluid, grubby, rainswept look captured by Pierre Aim, the lighting cameraman who shot La Haine. The movie is violent, but given the subject matter, necessarily so, and is not gratuitous or exploitative. It is far from being the splatter fest some commentators have suggested, and is certainly no more violent than your average vacuous cops and robbers Hollywood flick.
McNamee has also said that: “We have a moral responsibility to confront our history in this society. That’s what the film does and I think it does it responsibly.” But it also confronts the nature of violence in general. That Resurrection Man has touched a raw nerve in those from a loyalist background in the North can be gauged from playwright Gary Mitchell’s farcical claim in a recent Irish Times article that: ‘...they (the Shankhill Butchers) had reasons for doing what they did. For example, they understood that guns as murder weapons are extremely traceable; butchers’ knives, hack-saws, chisels and scissors are not.’ Strange, then, that one clean cut to the throat was not sufficient to dispatch a random victim, until a thousand small cuts were first administered all over the rest of the body. Strange, too, that prolonged blood loss by multiple minor incisions did not become the most popular method of murder for all factions in the six counties. Mitchell also wrote: ‘...when this small, thin man (Victor) suffocated a very large and heavy B J Hogg, any hope of realism left the auditorium. It is clear that the makers do not understand violence any more than they understand the Protestant community from which it was generated.’ But what Mitchell misses is that Hacksaw (Hogg) wanted to die, and that violence generated for an ostensible political aim but really as an end in itself always turns back on itself, punishing its own. Complicity is everything. By problematising these issues in an intelligent fashion, Resurrection Man makes most recent ‘Northern Movies’ seem simplistic to the point of childishness, still caught up as they are in trying to explain the conflict in straightforward political terms. As for where the buck stops, who are these ‘vested interests’, that’s another day’s work, involving arguments about the circularity of power and its exercise, but a good place to start looking would be the eternal heart of darkness, embodied in Mephistopheles, and delineated by Conrad, among others, including McNamee.

First published in Film Ireland













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