Problematic Film History: The Crying Game

Welcome to a new feature at IceCream4Freaks: Problematic Film History!  Each week, I’ll be discussing a well-regarded film of the past and the elements of that film which have aged the worst.  This week: The Crying Game

This feature is fairly new, but I had a general expectation of the types of films I would be talking about. The problematic aspects would overpower the narrative and blow away the quality. Luckily for me, Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game is the early exception to that rule.

The film stars Stephen Rea as Fergus, an IRA volunteer chosen to babysit a British soldier Jody (Forrest Whitaker) held prisoner by his group. Fergus develops feelings for Jody’s lover Dil (Jaye Davidson) while still being pulled into the world of the IRA fight.

The film is 29 years old, but I’m about to spoil it, so be forewarned. The film is really three separate vignettes. The first focuses on Fergus and Jody and how Fergus will handle his duties, including assigned to kill Jody (which he fails at, though Jody still dies). The second is Fergus seeking out and falling for Dil. The third is the reveal of Dil’s being transgender and how Fergus handles it going forward, with added IRA implications.

The problematic elements arise when Fergus reacts to Gil’s reveal. Upon Fergus’ discovery, he reacts by immediately hitting her and running to the bathroom to repeatedly vomit. For the remainder of the film, Fergus correctly genders Dil, but repeatedly states she is not a woman; both for jokes and in declarative statements.

To the film’s credit, Fergus’ feelings towards Dil are not as simple as repulsion following her reveal. He continues to persue her, but Fergus’ romantic feelings are something he is attempting to come to grips with. In an attempt to protect Dil from the IRA, the film decides to make her look more like a man by cutting her hair short and dressing her in Jody’s old clothes. Even in a film where the relationship is something much more complex than expected, there still feels like a forced element “true gender” with the haircutting and clothing choices. Additionally, a scene is included to imply Dil is HIV-positive or has AIDS. This is the classic example of assumed “punishment” for living a life not of the “norm.”

None of this is Davidson’s fault, who is spectacular in the role. He embodies Dil with a steady feminism without devolving into cliché. That being said, Atkinson is cis-gendered. I would like to think this film would be cast with a transgender actress if it were made today, but this being 1992, the world used this film more as a punchline than a touchtone of transgender depiction on-screen.

Despite those elements, the film is a world of political intrigue and discovering your true nature (Fergus, not Dil). The film felt revolutionary at the time, but has aged poorly, despite its overall quality. The film feels like a time capsule of the ignorance of the past, despite (I believe) having the best of intentions.

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