Culture > Movies

Impure purity

Movies | Elegantly structured film shows the tragic nature of civil war

Issue: "Opium wars," May 12, 2007

Two comments from its core character frame The Wind That Shakes the Barley, an Irish film that won the top award at last year's Cannes film festival. Damien (Cillian Murphy) at the start waxes sarcastic about one death in the 1919-1923 Irish rebellion/civil war: "Micheail was killed because he wouldn't say his name in English. That what you call a martyr?" At the end Damien, threatened with death, says, "I tried not to get into this war, and did, now I try to get out, and can't."

That's the way this film directed by veteran socialist film director Ken Loach works. He is clearly on the side of the rebels, but he's also honest enough to understand that revolutions almost always (America's was an exception) eat their young. This film does not have a U.S. rating, but potential viewers should be aware that it features killings, gruesome torture, and repeated use of a common obscenity. It is also the most edifying film about the tragic nature of civil war that I have ever seen.

Part of the teaching comes in the cinematography, which features dark colors and the shadowy interiors of stone cottages. Part of it comes through the agony in Damien's body language as he paces and twitches before and after killing a person he's known all his life. Part of it is evident in the sadness of his older brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney), who decides to accept Britain's proposal to end the Anglo-Irish war, even though it's not 100 percent of what the rebels wanted.

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When Damien chooses all or nothing and the war becomes Irish brother against brother, we see the cost of ideological purity apart from Christian love. The film's elegant structure provides a sense of unity and inevitability which only God's grace could break through-and director Loach evidently has no sense of that.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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