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The Crying Game

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The famous secret of The Crying Game (1992, LIVE, R, $94.98), I presume, has by now been revealed to anyone with the slightest interest in it. So, as the tape and disc versions of the film arrive in stores, it’s time to examine whether the secret was really central to the success of the movie. I am convinced it was. Indeed, the idea of the secret was much more important than the secret itself, for one reason: The number of people interested in seeing a romance involving a transvestite is greater than the number of people prepared to admit that they are. Imagine if The Crying Game had advertised its walk on the wild side, so audiences knew the secret going in. Would it have made $62 million? Not likely. The movie provided a safe way to satisfy voyeuristic curiosity. Ads for it read: ”The movie everyone is talking about, but no one is giving away its secrets.” This was the literal truth. Still, a message was getting across in all the talk about the secret. People put a note in their voices that implied the secret had nothing to do with the identity of a murderer or the location of buried treasure. It was clearly sexual in nature. And in our time there is only one sexual secret, and it is exactly the secret in The Crying Game. Many who went to see the movie could say they were going to a thriller, or a romance, whatever-certainly not to a film involving homosexuality. But they might have been disappointed if the secret had not been the one they were prepared for. Neil Jordan, who wrote and directed The Crying Game, says he decided only late in his writing that Dil, the character played by Oscar-nominee Jaye Davidson, was a man. Then everything clicked. True, the movie would not have worked as well if Dil had been a biological female, because the movie’s strategy is to upset our expectations. The fact that Dil is black is an important part of this strategy, because it allows one taboo to mask another: ”She’s not your type,” Jody, a kidnapped British soldier (Forest Whitaker) tells Fergus, his IRA captor (Stephen Rea), and we are led to believe he’s referring to race. The opening scene, as Jody picks up a woman at a carnival, is deceptive in two ways (Jody is not a straight male, the woman is not a pickup but a terrorist), and the screenplay repeatedly sets up situations only to knock them down. Jordan plays with us almost diabolically. He knows ’90s audiences are accustomed to formula screenplays that are merely a predictable sequence of events. But The Crying Game continually redefines itself. By the end we finally know it is not about pickups, terrorists, hostages, girlfriends, assassination attempts, or even gay romance. What it is really about is finding someone you like and trust: Standing, as the final song tells us, by your man. Was I surprised by the secret? Yes, and no. There were moments in the first scenes between Davidson and Rea when it occurred to me that perhaps all was not as it seemed. But I rejected my suspicions because I thought it was too much to hope that a filmmaker would so audaciously challenge the expectations of his audience. Movies in our time are tame and safe, careful to supply what the audience expects and nothing else. Audiences might have caught on to the secret more quickly in the ’60s and ’70s, when we went to the movies expecting to be challenged. For many of its younger viewers-first in theaters and now on video-The Crying Game must be a revelation. They know movies can amaze and entertain. But they might not know they can surprise, and keep on surprising, all the way from the beginning to the end. A

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