‘The Crying Game:’ classic queer cinema or transphobic?
Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Debatable: The Crying Game
Writer/director Neil Jordan took home an Acadamy Award back in 1993 for his script to The Crying Game, a movie that often lands on Best of the 1990s lists. The story follows an agent of the Irish Republican Army named Fergus (Stephen Rea) who takes a British soldier named Jody (Forrest Whittaker) hostage. Over the course of three days, an odd kinship develops between the pair, and Fergus promises that if Jody dies at the hands of the IRA, Fergus will seek out Jody’s girlfriend Dil and make sure she is cared for. Jody does die, and Fergus goes on the run, hiding out in London and calling himself “Jimmie.” There, he befriends the beautiful Dil (Jaye Davidson) and feels an immediate attraction.
Spoiler alert: Dil is revealed as a transgender woman, and Fergus’ initial rejection of her–followed by his professing his love–fuels both praise and attacks on the movie’s treatment of an LGBTQ character. One key scene seems to attract most of the criticism: that of Fergus vomiting after discovering Dil is trans. As documented in Disclosure, the scene is extremely triggering for many transgender audience members, and understandably so: the moment plays on the anxieties that trans people face every day. It also doesn’t help that countless other movies–notably Ace Ventura: Pet Detective–have parodied the moment for cheap laughs.
But does a triggering moment make The Crying Game transphobic? In our interview with Neil Jordan, he also mentioned that he always thought of Dil as a kind of angel–the moral center of the film. Considering that transgender characters in film up to that point had been portrayed as vile killers (see also: Dressed to Kill, Sleepaway Camp, and many others), The Crying Game does, for better, worse, or possibly both, hold an important place in the history of queer people in movies. For that matter, many great queer films–Boy Erased, The Children’s Hour, Victim, Philadelphia, The Boys in the Band, Boys Don’t Cry–have elements that will trigger LGBTQ viewers. Great art often upsets by design; stirring uncomfortable emotions in audiences adds to the power of the piece.
But we digress. Is Dil a great transgender character or a transphobic one? Can both be true on some level? If the “twist” of the movie became a pivotal element of the movie’s marketing, does that make the story itself an exploitative one? If Neil Jordan didn’t have the proper language to discuss Dil at the time he made the film (referring to her at times as a “transvestite”), does that make his intentions nefarious?
Nothing we could possibly write here could settle these debates, perhaps because the issues are not cut-and-dry, and perhaps because the answers will vary from viewer to viewer. What we will say is that The Crying Game is an incredible political thriller featuring two great performances from Davidson and Rea. We also fell in love with the character of Dil–however the movie treats her, she’s one of the most pure-hearted, courageous queer characters in cinema. We recommend the film for its place in movie history, and for the important conversation it continues to feed 30 years later. As LGBTQ lovers of the movies, it’s important to see movies like this one, flaws and all, for that very reason. Watch it, and let the debate rage on.
Streams on Paramount+, Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.