Monday, July 31, 2017

The Journey

Set in Scotland in 2006, during the negotiations that led up to the St. Andrews' Northern Ireland Power-Sharing Agreement, The Journey dramatizes a fictional road trip taken by two of the main protagonists, -Ian Paisley (the firebrand Protestant preacher of what to the rest of the world surely seemed like a wildly anachronistic anti-Catholicism) and Martin McGinness (one of the leading IRA terrorists), who eventually ended up as allies of a sort, sharing power in Belfast and duly dubbed "the Chuckle Brothers" by the media. On the one hand, it seems strange, when dealing with real historical people, to invent a fictional story, when the true story must surely be at least as interesting. On the other hand, it is so well done that its improbability recedes from one's consciousness as the imagined reconciliation is so skillfully acted out.

I confess to no great interest in the sad story of Irish terrorism (represented by McGinness and his cronies) and the tragic impasse 20th-century Irish nationalism gratuitously created for itself. Nor, needless to say, am I at all drawn to Paisley, who in 1988 famously  heckled Pope Saint John Paul II with the words, "I denounce you, Anti-Christ," when the Pope came to speak to the European Parliament. 

What the film's fictionalized version of the two great antagonists' slow movement toward mutual recognition does do, however, is to open a small window into their souls and in the process a large window into the tragic world of long-standing tribal conflict. At one point McGinness admits to Paisley that what they are being called upon to do is something the world will love but their constituencies will hate. However important leaders may be in stirring up hatred, we should never underestimate how deep such tribal hatreds and the communal conflicts they cause can be at their root - and how limited leaders may be in their ability to transcend those divisions. That indeed is one of the reasons why we so exalt the few leaders who successfully do so. The reason peacemakers are so few and rare is the reality of how hard peacemaking is and how really resistant people are to it.

The film employs that popular fantasy that, if enemies could just get together and talk to one another on a personal level as people, as fellow human beings, with similar lives and families, etc., then reconciliation really becomes possible. But, as the final handshake at the airport illustrates, the conditions for such an outcome are stringent. They require an unabashed recognition of the intensity of the accumulated centuries of  hatred that separate the two tribes - and a consequent willingness to prioritize political art rather than any expectation of spiritual transformation.

The Paisley-McGinness movement toward mutual recognition was possible not because they were trapped together on a fictional road trip but because they were old enough and experienced enough (and perhaps also tired enough and maybe even sick enough) to recognize the providential concurrence of challenges and opportunities and take advantage of an historical moment. And, for all their monumental personal faults and failings, good for them that they did!

No comments:

Post a Comment