SUNDAY ESSAY: Secrets and ‘The Crying Game’

In late 1992, the buzz around the latest new Brit film was intense, and Entertainment Weekly described The Crying Game as the film that everyone was talking about. However, they inserted a ‘not’ before ‘talking’ because the movie had a major plot turn that was held back until a key reveal in the film and if you didn’t know this reveal was coming, the movie was much more impactful. Fortunately for me, no one told me what the key point was, and so when it came, I was, as they say, ‘gob smacked’ by what I saw.

I’m going to write about that big reveal here, but I figure after 30 years, anyone who hasn’t seen the film won’t. That said, if you don’t want to know, stop here. This is your Spoiler Alert!

The story is about a black British soldier named Jody who is taken captive by elements of the Irish Republican Army, or IRA. For those unfamiliar with British history, the idea of a black British soldier or an Irish army that takes hostages might be unusual, but both situations were not unusual in the 1980s. Britain imported many citizens from its colonial holdings in Africa and many of those men as well as their children serve in the Royal Armed Forces. The British colonial experience, if can be called that, in Ireland was an unhappy one, and over time, a paramilitary force was established that sought to push the UK government out of the (mostly Protestant) north and put the whole the country under the government of the (mostly Catholic) Irish government in Dublin. The Brits wouldn’t leave, and so the Irish began to fight an asymmetrical war against the enemy and that included taking hostages which they would use to bargain for IRA prisoners held by the British.

So, the black soldier, Jody, is held by the IRA, and the leader of the IRA cell tells Jody that they are going to seek to trade him for an IRA prisoner, and if they Brits refuse, they will simply execute Jody on the third day.  The IRA leader then unwisely appoints a volunteer named Fergus to guard Jody. In the hours of waiting for the third day to come, Fergus makes the mistake of getting to know Jody and they find they have many things in common including a love of cricket.

One day, Jody asked Fergus to look in his wallet, and there, Fergus finds a photo of Jody’s girlfriend, a coffee-colored girl named Dil. As the end draws near, Jody requests that Fergus find Dil and tell her that, in his last moments, he was thinking of her.

The Brits refuse the trade, and so Fergus is tasked with killing Jody, but of course he can’t do it. Nevertheless, Jody and a bunch of the IRA squad are killed when the British close in on them. Fergus gets away and travels to London to work as a day laborer. He takes a new name and seeks to distance himself from his IRA past.

But of course, he can’t resist doing what Jody asked of him. Guilt over Jody’s violent end stalks him. Eventually, he must find Dil.

Jody revealed that Dil hangs out at a particular bar, and Fergus, now going by the name Jimmy, goes there and sees Dil perform a song called ‘The Crying Game.’ Fergus, as Jimmy, gets to know Dil and in time, they begin to drift romantically towards one another. Dil has a lot of problems, including a violent boyfriend, but Fergus defends her, which further endears him to her. Fergus neglects to tell Dil that he was partly responsible for Jody’s death, even when he sees photos of Jody in her apartment. Fergus confirms that Jody was her true love, and his death was a critical loss to her.

Dil and Fergus become emotionally entangled and are becoming sexually involved. They make out, and finally, Dil puts on a night gown and leads Fergus to her bed. When Fergus opens the nightgown, he is confronted by ‘her penis’ and he realizes, for the first time, that Dil is a man.

Of course, this was the big reveal that no one was supposed to talk about. I didn’t know, and so when I saw the film, I was as surprised as anyone else.

Jimmy/Fergus reacts poorly and runs to the bathroom where he begins to vomit. Dil realizes for the first time that Fergus doesn’t know much about ‘cross dressing,’ as it was called then, and thought that he really was a she.

Of course, right about this time, the IRA tracks down Fergus, and they blame him for the disaster around Jody. They’ve been observing him, and they don’t know anything about Dil being a man or his relationship to Jody; they only know that they want Fergus to commit an assassination in London and they warn him that refusal will not only mean punishment for him; they will kill his girlfriend as well, meaning Dil.

It is here that we reach a real cultural disparity between the world of 1992, when this film was released, and today.

Fergus, knowing full well that Dil is a man, refuses further romantic entanglement, but knowing that Dil was Jody’s love and that Dil is a good person, carries forward with the IRA plans because this is the only way to protect Dil, and fulfill his obligation, made against his will, to a black, British, and presumably gay, soldier. When Dil comes to know that Fergus did this, he remains loyal to Fergus, even though Fergus has stated that if Dil is a man, there is no romance. Fergus and Dil have bonded on a level past gender, and in each other, they see a good but fallen person in a fallen world of bad choices. They share a love that is not exactly friendly but not sexual.

Why is this different from today? Because today, to be a sympathetic character, Fergus must accept that Dil, even though he has male body parts, IS a woman. And Dil, though he might enjoy the protection and loyalty Fergus shows, would have to denounce him as a hater, since Fergus is unable to carry forward in a romance with a trans person. And so, this movie, like so many others, is impossible to make because changes in the orthodoxy of gender.

This is unfortunate because it degrades the moral agency of both parties and ‘The Crying Game‘ is a deeply moral story.

There are human virtues that transcend race, class, and gender. Principal among these virtues is a sense of remorse for bad actions. Fergus participated in the kidnapping that cost Jody his life, and he can’t forget that. Fergus has a soul that troubles him, and that is why he sought out Dil in the first place.

Another manly virtual is the impulse for men to protect vulnerable women, which Fergus does when he sees that Dil is being abused. He believes Dil to be a female and accepts the risks associated with providing protection.

Another virtue is keeping a promise or obligation even when no one else knows about it. Jody was dead, and Fergus didn’t need to breath a word of what Jody asked, which was that he check in on Dil and tell her about Jody’s final minutes of life. But Fergus does this eventually.

Finally, there is the virtue that comes from treating many kinds of people the same, and not applying a different standard of virtue to people who are alien. The reveal that Dil is a man doesn’t change the moral landscape that Fergus inhabits. He will still protect Dil, fulfill his promises, and remain his own man, regardless of Dil’s plumbing. He will not confirm that male and female are on a continuum and we can go from one side to the other at will, but he will retain his own moral center.

The Crying Game is a great film, and it captures a certain timeless love story that is often about falling for the wrong person. From Romeo and Juliet to The Crying Game, to Brokeback Mountain, with a million stops between, we see that love and loyalty are put to the test in a myriad of ways. I cannot see how we are making moral progress by insisting that a man can BECOME a woman, or a woman can BE a man when that is clearly impossible. Fergus never accepts Dil as a woman once he knows that isn’t true, but his actions don’t change. He offers his loyalty and sacrifice anyway. That is truth and virtue, celebrated in 1992, some 30 years ago, cast aside now in our headlong war on human biology.

Here is the scene where Fergus, calling himself Jimmy, goes to the bar and sees Dil for the first time.

The trailer from 1992:

The trailer
Fergus can’t bring himself to shoot Jody
Dil and Fergus
The Crying Game was one of Joely Richardson’s last films
They put Richardson, and not Dil, on the poster
the IRA baddies threated Dil if Fergus won’t kill for them

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