With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Yann Demange’s ’71 is up.
It’s hard to find a movie that manages to shake you to the core. It’s even harder still to find one that does so outside of the realm of horror, and yet, ’71 manages to do not only that, but also accurately show you one of the darkest periods in recent UK history. Every detail is played just right, with the masterful subtlety of a director who knows where to be delicate with your emotions, and where to get back to the situation’s unforgiving reality.
The movie doesn’t present itself as an action thriller, or even as a period piece that aims to judge those involved in The Troubles
‘71 strikes an odd balance between calming atmosphere and paranoid action, evoking thrillers past like Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape From New York, where one man finds himself against impossible odds, against a world that completely despises him. Yet, unlike those movies, ’71 treats the entire subject with its foot firmly set in reality. Rather than glorifying the main character, a British soldier played by the brilliant Jack O’Connell, it simply shows him as a human being. His job seems incidental when compared to his everyman qualities.
The movie doesn’t present itself as an action thriller, or even as a period piece that aims to judge the era nor the people who were involved in The Troubles. Director Yann Demange, who’s already earned his fair share of credit on the TV scene, is much more interested in showing the personal experiences of the people involved, and the fear and paranoia of never feeling safe in your own city, with your own people. The division between these people is explored flawlessly, showcasing just how confusing things can be in such a time. Indeed, everything becomes a “confused situation”, a phrase which is repeated throughout the film by the military, and which serves to highlight the fact that this conflict was not necessarily even understood by those affected by it.
What’s notable is the way the score is utilised to bring these feelings of paranoia and uncertainty to the audience. The music is entirely atmospheric, utilising slow chords and sounds that at times feel like palpitations. Every second pushes the uneasy and desperate tone of the movie forward, every moment feeling like it could very well be the last for either our protagonist or the IRA members who fiercely chase after him.
It’s the loss of innocence and the danger of zealousness that also marks a huge chunk of the movie
Even with a weapon in their hands, no character truly feels ‘courageous’, and violence is seldom portrayed in any way other than brutal and despicable, even if our main character is the perpetrator. Our main character is also, oddly enough, almost silent throughout the movie, having little to no lines. Many a times, this is what helps the character feel so relatable; you can transplant your own self into his image on the screen, making the fear and intensity of the situation even more powerful.
One of the most shocking characters in the film is a boy, no more than 12, who sides with the loyalists of Belfast. Having suffered the loss of his father at the hands of the IRA, he already sees himself involved in the middle of the armed conflict directly. He has a foul mouth and a curious taste for all things grown up, while still maintaining a strange and child-like innocence. (It pulls at our main character’s heart strings, who has a son of his own back home.) It’s this loss of innocence and the danger of zealousness that also marks a huge chunk of the movie.
While ’71’s political stance is clearly neutral, if not completely null, there is a clear vilification of extremist tendencies, both by the IRA and the British military. These agencies in the film choose to completely undermine, if not de-humanise their fellow man, when presented with someone who is “not on their side”.
’71 is about how there are no truly ‘good’ sides in such a conflict, and what it truly means to have to use violence to survive another day
This movie not only presents itself as a faithful representation of the era which it depicts, but also a testament to human willpower through the horrors of war. It’s about how there are no truly ‘good’ sides in such a conflict, and what it truly means to have to use violence to survive another day. While many films are much too happy to show us violence and destruction, as well as good and evil in black and white terms, ’71 not only gives us a compelling story but also forces us to rethink our entire world view, something we should do a lot more of.
All images: StudioCanal