Comparative essay on Michael Collins and The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Two films, one history
As the 21th century began I sensed a great increase of interest towards Irish culture. More and more music bands appeared on the stages and St. Patrick’s Day began to be celebrated in foreign countries. But do people know about Irish culture, history and why they have strong nationalist feelings? I this comparative essay I will examine how can this question be answered through the films Michael Collins (1996) (MC from now on) and The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) (WSB from now on).
These films subserved to popularize Irish culture, especially MC. It is full of famously known actors such as Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts and Aidan Quinn. In addition to that, it directly contains the most important events until the Civil War. WSB more likely had already been built upon the gained general knowledge of people. The director, Ken Loach decided to present the events underneath. The protagonists learn the decisions through written and secret commands, the commands of Collins and De Valera. This is the most basic difference between the two movies.
To put this in another perspective, Neil Jordan’s MC is a biographical film about the leadership’s, the military strategists’ struggle with the IRA members in the background. WSB is the exact opposite, the ordinary IRA members’ fight with the leaders who only pull the strings. This opposition makes the creations of anti-treaty and treaty split clearer. For instance, when in WSB IRA members gather after having watched a newsreel about the Anglo-Irish Treaty they began to split. Teddy O’Donovan, one of the protagonists, says that Michael Collins ‘did as well as any man’, but then a lady interrupts him by saying that he ‘did not negotiated the proper treaty’. Another example for this is the shot when they receive the command to assassinate all the spies. The audience do not know that it is from Collins but from the film MC it has been revealed. Thus, they go like cog-wheels working together in order to show us the whole picture about fighting for the Irish Independence.
The most important cogs of the wheel are the two main characters and their partners. Strangely, they represent the two opposing sides of the Treaty. In MC the pair of Michael Collins and De Valera, the latter is the leader of the anti-treaty IRA in which Damien O’Donovan is a member contrary to his brother believing in the treaty. Both movies’ aim is to make the split caused by the treaty appear on the screen represented by two brothers or two friends.
Now, I would like to introduce this split from the perspective of the protagonists’ characteristics. Damien O’Donovan is an ordinary member of society, though well respected due to his profession as a doctor. The audience learn several times during the movie that he loves his job and helps wherever he can. At first he appears as an easily impressionable person. He thinks that his brother plays a foolish game in the IRA, and they will never reach anything. Then, he changes his mind. After this, his feelings exercise impression on him throughout the plot. He falls into line with the radical anti-treaty IRA. He is dead to reason when it becomes clear that he will die, assassinated by his own brother. We can call this courage, narrow mindedness, stiffness or patriotic, but one thing is for sure: his young mind and soul is behind his radical thoughts.
The leader of the anti-treaty party, Éamon de Valera, is a key figure in the events. Contrary to Damien he is not a blindfolded patriot. He is a real strategist in mind, a calm but convincing leader. He travels overseas to the U.S.A. to find supporters for the War of Independence. For me, his personality is quite dubious. Why did he leave the country in the middle of the war? Why did he send Collins instead of himself to negotiate with the British? These can be thoroughly considered strategic steps, as well as shifts of responsibility upon Collins. All the same, he did not want to be the same murderer as the English and he disagreed with Collins’ methods of beating them.
Teddy O’Donovan appears as a dedicated patriot, but much more mature in thinking then his brother, Damien. That is why he is pro-treaty. He thinks that the British Empire will not let Ireland to be independent and they had never intended to. He does everything to convince his brother that it does not worth continue fighting and thus trying to save him. He calls anti-treaty belief radical, but Damien responds that his is only being a realist. They let their relationship based upon politics, fear and war. It is unbelievable that Teddy can assassinate his own brother for his belief and duty.
The relationship of Collins and de Valera is not this ill. They are bright politicians who argue with reason. They do not go deeper in their feelings. Although, it seems that Collins cares more about friendship. He cannot believe to his eyes when the anti-treaty men file out from the Dáil, including Harry, his best friend. For me, Collins’ personality is the most convincing, the most honest. He thinks realistically but radically. The film creates his personality as a loyal, realistic, bright, radical, sensitive and loving one.
To sum up, I think both movies help a lot to understand why Irish people are so proud of their history. Also, they made me think about the Hungarian War of Independence in 1848-49. I believe many parallels exist between them, the help of which one can thoroughly understand identity and nationality.