Picked Flick #59: The Crying Game
Watching The Crying Game now is nothing like the same experience, for any number of reasons. Both in my personal life and in the wider culture, the film's images of a gay watering hole and its verbal and visual rhetoric around homosexuality seem almost quaint. Maybe in 1992 The Crying Game already looked quaint to people who had actually visited a gay bar or a drag performance, or who had real-life honest-to-God queer acquaintances. As for me, I was watching from a vantage of such conjecture and fantasy that I remember feeling wholly seduced, not by the secrets but by the surfaces: how beautiful Dil was, how much I liked her form-fitting wine-colored suit and Miranda Richardson's heavy cable-knit sweater (thus commencing my 14-year affair with Sandy Powell), and best of all, how capably and, in my opinion, sophisticatedly the film interwove its sexual themes into other political arguments. In a film that, as far as I had been told, pivoted entirely on one big reveal, it seemed to me that The Crying Game was about sexuality only to the extent that it was about everything else that it was about. Captation, friendship across enemy lines, a lover's grief, unwelcome revenants from the past, hot and cool approaches to protest and subversion... The Crying Game didn't deny or derealize queer sexuality, but nor did it divorce sexuality from a bigger, gnarlier knot of human problems, and this, for me, was its Big Twist. As little as I had let myself really think about homosexuality, I had thought even less about terrorism and guilt and secret honor, and even less than that about how sexuality could bleed through, in, around, and as those other ideas. Similarly, as floored as I was by Jaye Davidson's performance as Dilnot his casting but his performanceand as therefore aggrieved as I was by Oscar's preference of Gene Hackman, I also clocked Adrian Dunbar's searing indignation, Stephen Rea's recessive sadness, Miranda Richardson's shifting web of motivations, and Jim Broadbent's unobtrusive whimsy as the barman. The Crying Game, just as much as Howards End the same year, was my introduction to great character acting; understandably, it took another year or two for me to recognize that people outside of Britain knew how to do this.
When I watch the film now, I am conscious of an enormous reversal in my relation to it. At times, the mystery of Dil seems actively to impede the flow and clarity of the picture, and a few of her boozy, pill-popping, floridly bruised, bondage-inflected episodes near the end feel none too advanced from Celluloid Closet tropes. The innuendoes of admiration and genital contact in the opening scenes between Rea and Forest Whitaker are much too obviously suggestive of later turns, although it's still a powerfully understated study in tacit, almost illicit affinity between hostage and patrol. Anne Dudley's score is as impressively Hitchcockian as Jordan's writing, and even if the screenplay, which I remembered as such a sinuous exercise in subtle connections, now feels a little bullish and schematic, I'm still duly impressed by the performances and by Jordan's success in getting his own head into such territory in 1992, much less that of his rapt global audience. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)