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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Ironic Soundtrack
“When a Man Loves a Woman” opens the movie. “Stand by Your Man” is a song that which traditionally had only been sung by women and was therefore viewed as a song by and for women, yet is here sung by a man as the choice which brings the story to a close. The irony is so sublime as to be beyond the need for explanation. Gender expectations are everything in this story and the more settled the preconceptions one brings to a first viewing, the greater the sense of irony.
Divisions that Bring People Together
The movie concludes on a note of almost unbearably sublime irony. The only reason that Dil and Fergus seem to be happy at the end despite the admittedly prickly circumstances of his unfortunate incarceration is because they have found love. And they have only found love because the British and the Irish just can’t seem to get along.
The End of Jody
Poor Jody. He seems so totally out of place. A black bisexual British soldier serving among the Irish who want to kill. Then he gets kidnapped only to make friends with one of his captors. Then he manages to make a last second escape. Only to finally die not at the hands of his kidnappers or, indeed, any of the Irish that want to see him dead, but beneath the forces of his own country’s most powerful weapons of military defense. That’s some kind of irony.
Of course, the great irony of the narrative is Fergus is falling not for the girlfriend of the man he helped to kill (if only indirectly) but the boyfriend. (Genitally speaking, of course.) In fact, the real irony associated with the character of Dil is not that she turns out to have a penis, but that Fergus seems to be almost literally the last person who is an audience to the goings-on inside that particular bar to be ahead of the reveal. The reveal of Dil’s genitals is not a cheat like the end of The Sixth Sense because director and screenwriter Neil Jordan puts every single clue right there in front of you. He doesn’t shoot scenes that would make absolutely no sense in the real world and he does mislead and misdirect the audience to think one thing when everything is another. You don’t really even need to pay all that close attention to have figured out long before Fergus what is going on her. Unless, of course, your preconceptions are so rigid that you cannot possibly even imagine such a turn of events.
The final, ultimate irony of the movie occurred outside the narrative and away from the screen, but so deeply resonates with the film’s obsession with gender roles and conventions that it could not possibly have worked out with greater precision if planned. The Crying Game was a sleeper hit dependent upon word of mouth or, more specifically, keeping your mouth shut if you saw it and talked about it. From out of nowhere, the film leapt from a certain future as an arthouse cult film into the mainstream because of the big reveal about Dil’s genitalia. And then, before the film really even made it into theaters deep within the heart of America, the Oscar nominations were announced and the actor playing Dil was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Since The Crying Game was the sort of film that would lend itself to be seen by people who followed the Oscars, it made sense that the secret would be out and the box office would tank. It didn’t and the nominations even gave the film enough steam to be considered a real contender to take Best Picture as well as a handful of other awards. That also did not happen. Almost lost amid all the concern about what economic effect Jaye Davidson’s nomination would have on the film was the much deeper and far more ironic punctuation it gave to the film’s underlying contention that much of the world’s problems stem from arriving into situations with a preconceived notion so rigidly ingrained that progress seems unlikely and the union of the formerly divided represented by Fergus and Dil is an impossibility. And yet, half a century later, acting talent is still rigidly divided in a completely arbitrary way along gender divides at the Oscars.
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