The Crying Game's complicated legacy [September 27, 1992]
Plus: R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Crowded House, and Happy Mondays
Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋 Welcome back to the week of September 27, 1992.
📰 In news: Madonna’s video for ‘Erotica’ airs on MTV and is almost immediately banned. 📽️New in cinemas is Carry On Colombus 📺On TV, The Big Breakfast launches on Channel 4.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is still ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, but today let’s focus on…
This week’s Number 28: ‘The Crying Game’ — Boy George
As a society, we’ve never been as divided as we are in 2022. We’re all locked in a bitter culture war, constantly yelling at (and being yelled at by) family, friends and even strangers.
But at least we can all agree on one thing:
People who share spoilers are weapons-grade assholes.
‘Twas not always thus. Personally, I had almost every big twist of the 90s spoiled for me before I got to see the movie. I knew the end of Fight Club and The Sixth Sense. I knew who Keyser Soze was. I knew who was Luke’s dad, and whether Ilsa gets on the plane.
And of course I knew the big surprise in The Crying Game.
I knew it even before it was spoilered in The Simpsons in 1994. Everyone knew about The Crying Game by then. For a while, it’s all anyone talked about.
So, what happens in The Crying Game?
The Crying Game has a fairly standard neo-noir plot.
Fergus (Stephen Rea) is part of an IRA cell that kidnaps British squaddie Jody (Forrest Whittaker). The two men bond, and Jody asks Fergus for a favour: if he dies, he wants Fergus to go to London and take care of his girlfriend, Dil.
Jody dies, and Fergus goes to London. He finds Dil and the two begin a passionate affair.
But the IRA hasn’t forgotten about Fergus. They blackmail him into another mission, which goes pear-shaped. At the worst possible moment, Dil discovers that Fergus played a role in Jody’s death.
In the end, Dil rescues Fergus by killing the IRA leader. Fergus takes the fall for Dil and goes to jail—the film ends with Dil visiting Fergus in prison, and the two make plans for what they’ll do when he gets out.
Like most noirs, there is a lot of psychosexual stuff happening under the surface.
In many ways, The Crying Game is actually Fergus’s coming out story. He’s first presented as a straight bloke (what could be more hetero than terrorism?), but his relationship with Jody is flirtatious, and soon turns to love. There’s a scene where Fergus gets a blowjob from Dil, and just as he’s about to orgasm, he has a vision of Jody. Dil asks Fergus a repeated question, but it’s not “do you accept me?”—“do you wish I was him?”
Fergus doesn’t really know if he’s gay, straight or what. He’s spent so long presenting as a Normal Bloke that he’s lost sight of his true nature. That’s the main theme of the film: the conflict between your innate self and the persona that society forces you to adapt.
Stephen Rea is a really interesting choice for this kind of split personality role, especially as his straight persona is an IRA soldier.
From 1988 until 1994, people associated with the IRA weren’t allowed to speak on British TV. BBC came up with a bizarre workaround: they showed footage of people like Gerry Adams, but dubbed them with actors.
So, you would see Gerry’s lips move, but someone else’s voice came out of his mouth.
That voice? Stephen Rea.
That scene and its aftermath
The penis shows up around the halfway mark.
It’s not played like a big horror movie jump scare or anything. Fergus and Dil are kissing, he undresses her and moves down her body, the camera follows his movement, and then… it’s just there.
Fergus roughly shoves her aside and runs away to vomit. When he returns, Dil says, “…I thought you knew.”
A lot happens afterwards. Fergus gets over it. He comes back to Dil, apologises, and still loves her. The rest of the movie mostly plays as a traditional boy/girl romance.
Dil isn’t portrayed as a predator, which was kind of a big deal in 1992. In movies, trans characters were often portrayed as villains—or even serial killers, as in Psycho, Dressed to Kill, and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. In real life, people were using the “trans panic” defense as justification for assault or even murder.
But still… that’s the scene people remember. The scene was parodied in two 1994 comedies: The Naked Gun 33&1/3 and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
In Ace Ventura, when Ace realises he kissed someone with a penis, Jim Carrey spends a full minute violently decontaminating himself in the style of the shower scene in Silkwood. Boy George’s version of ‘The Crying Game’ plays in the background throughout:
The view from ‘22
Of course, spoiler etiquette is not the only thing to have changed since 1992.
I don’t know if you noticed, but gender is a bit of a contentious issue right now. Also, there’s also an ongoing debate about appropriation, and whether you should tell stories about a group if you’re not a member of said group.
(Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea are, as far as I know, cishet men. Jaye Davidson is a cisgendered gay man.)
When I went exploring the contemporary recation to The Crying Game, I was half expecting to find that it was hated as much as Birth Of A Nation or the movie adaptation of Rent.
Actually, there’s a lot of deep addection for the film in the LGBT community, especially from people who felt represented for the first time. A commenter on Quora said:
“I remember watching it before I had heard of the word transgender. I instantly was able to relate to Jaye Davidson's character (Dil). I understood her femininity, her drive to live a normal existence…It brought a little ray of light into my otherwise dark prison of forced masculinity.”
Another person on a Reddit forum listed the reasons they supported the movie:
Forgive me for taking nothing but delight out of a movie that ends with [a] Black transfemme—
• not detransitioning;
• not dying;
• not beaten up, r*ped, or otherwise miserable as some kind of sick object moral lesson about how we deserve to be punished for simply existing;
•still genuinely loved by the protagonist;
Of course, the film also plenty of critics. One essayist on Medium says flatly, “It is nearly impossible to overstate the damage this film has done to trans women.”
Sam Feder, director of the 2020 documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen said this:
The Crying Game is a masterful piece of filmmaking. It's political. It's beautiful. And it was one of the most damaging representations of trans people I saw as a teenager.
When The Crying Game came out, there was this huge media campaign around the secret: Don't tell the secret… The secret is that the woman is trans. And the reaction to her being trans is about 45 seconds of vomiting by her lover.
It was one of the first images I saw of a trans body — and it was one of the first movies I loved. For me, it's important to ask: How do we hold things accountable? How do we love them critically? I think that it can be healing to embrace this contradiction.
These are excellent questions.
Our current moment is defined by this endless war between Gammons and Snowflakes. It leaks into how we look at culture, and culture just becomes this endless game of “Who Can Cancel This Fastest?” or “Let’s Own The Libs”.
If we want to have meaningful conversations about culture, we have to navigate a path between the two extremes. As Feder says, we have to hold things accountable while loving them critically.
The Crying Game is actually a good subject for that kind of conversation. There’s a lot to love in this film. There’s also some stuff that should be held to account. Talking both aspects can, I think, be healing.
What did you think of The Crying Game back then? What do you think of The Crying Game now? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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Elsewhere in the charts
Number 5 (↑ from 6): ‘Iron Lion Zion’ — Bob Marley
1992 saw the release of Songs of Freedom, an epic 4-CD box set of Bob Marley rarities. Among them was this banger track, which became a decent-sized posthumous hit.
Number 14 (New Entry): ‘Drive’ — REM
There is something so gutsy about choosing ‘Drive’ as the first single from Automatic For The People.
R.E.M.’s career path had been slow and steady, working their way to the foothills of the Top 40 with Green, then becoming household names with Out Of Time. The pressure was on for the next album to keep that upward trajectory going—something that would be easier if there were another radio-friendly single like ‘Shiny Happy People’.
Automatic For The People does have some singalong jams like ‘Man On The Moon’ or ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite’, or the anthemic majesty of ‘Everybody Hurts’.
Instead, R.E.M. chose to lead with ‘Drive’, a moody slow-burner with no chorus. The video shows Micheal Stipe in an endless, joyless crowd surf, a special kind of rock’n’roll purgatory.
It all worked out okay in the end though. Automatic For The People entered the album charts at Number One, and then stayed in the charts for two years. We’ll review it here next week.
Number 21 (↓ from 15): ‘Jeremy’ — Pearl Jam
‘Jeremy’ is inspired by the story of a Texan kid who took a gun to school and shot himself during class.
Ironically, it’s a reminder of a time when gun violence in American schools was something unusual, rather than a grimly ordinary fact of life.
Number 24 (↑ from 27): ‘It’s Only Natural’ — Crowded House
Wikipedia tells me that this song contains a minor fall and a major lift, like what David played to please The Lord.
As a musical idiot, I have no clue what this means. If you can explain it to me in the comments, I’d be ever so grateful.
Number 36 (New Entry): ‘For All Time’ — Catherine Zeta-Jones
Catherine Zeta-Jones can sing?! Of course she can, she played Peggy in 42nd Street on the West End for two years before she moved into telly. Also, let’s not forget that she literally won an Oscar for a musical.
Still, it’s weird to see her as a pop star.
‘For All Time’ is an odd song. The chorus is quite pleasant, but the verse is absolutely heinous. It’s like something you’d hear in a Eurovision semi-final. She does, however, look fabulous.
Album of the Week
Yes Please! — Happy Mondays
If you’ve read Tony Wilson’s autobiography, 24 Hour Party People, or if you’ve seen the movie adaptation with Steve Coogan, then you probably know the basics of the Yes Please! fiasco.
Factory Records were bleeding cash due to Wilson not being a very good businessman. Their last slim hope of survival came down to their two biggest acts, New Order and Happy Mondays, and the hope that one of them might have another hit record.
Shaun and Paul (RIP) Ryder were struggling with heroin addiction at the time, and utterly unable to make music. But then, someone had a bright idea of shipping the band out to Barbados, which was supposed to be heroin-free.
And they were right, Barbados didn’t have heroin. But it did have a ton of crack cocaine, and the Ryders immediately devoted themselves to smoking rock full-time. They smoked until the Factory money ran out, and then sold bits of Eddy Grant’s studio to pay for more crack.
Tina Weymouth—who produced Yes Please! with her husband and Talking Heads colleague Chris Frantz—said of the Ryders: “I grew up in New York in the 1970s, and I’ve seen a lot of people who live life on the edge, but I’ve never before seen a group of people who had no idea where the edge is.”
The Mondays returned from Barbados with one finished song and a few rough cuts—but no vocals or lyrics from Shaun, who had now checked into rehab.
Yes Please! had an initial budget of £150,000, but by the time they had dragged some vocals out of Shaun, Factory had spent over £350,000. Still, it might all be worth it if the record was a huge hit.
It was not a huge hit.
Melody Maker gave Yes Please! a two-word review: “No thanks”. The public stayed away in droves and the album only shifted a measly 50,000 copies. A few weeks later, Factory closed its doors.
That’s the history. But is Yes Please! any good?
Well, the answer to that question really depends on how you feel about Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz, who really stamped their identity on this album, giving it a very clean sound infused with tropical rhytms.
For a band so steeped in chaos, everything here sounds so tidy. At its best, it comes across as a kind of new-wave krautrock vibe, like on the excellent ‘Monkey In The Family’:
For the first half of the record, the restrained production feels like an interesting new direction. The two singles—‘Stinkin Thinkin’ and ‘Sunshine and Love’—are both among the Mondays’ best work, with the latter providing a killer juxtaposition between the slick groove, Rowetta’s amazing vocals, and gutpunch lyrics like:
You'll just stay in your favorite room
Playing with your deepest wound
‘Dustman’ reimagines Motown while Shaun howls soulfully, while ‘Angel’ almost channels Unknown Pleasure with its echoey drums and bleak lyrics:
When did the pain start?
When did the symptoms begin?
During the A-side of Yes Please!, it really sounds like the Mondays are onto something.
Then things start to fall apart. ‘Theme From Netto’ is a too-long instrumental track on a record that’s already struggling to meet its quota. ‘Lovechild’ rambles a bit. On ‘Total Ringo’, Shaun just sounds absolutely knackered:
The frustrating thing about Yes Please! is that you can hear the absolute supernova of talent at work here. And it’s not just classic Mondays genius—there’s something new emerging here.
Sadly, they never explored it properly. Stay away from drugs, kids.
Is Yes Please! a misunderstood classic or rambling bollocks? Sound off in the comments.
Word to your moms/I came to drop bombs/I got more rhymes then the Bible’s got psalms
If anything, I think "Yes, Please" is a lost opportunity. Literally, metaphorically, all of it.
Great essay on The Crying Game. I'm also super pumped about your take of R.E.M. They are one of my top five favorite bands. The whole of the late '80s and most of the '90s was defined by their work.
I went to my local record shop to buy Shaun's "Amateur Night at the Big Top" when it was released and I remember the owner puzzled how I knew that album existed. I'm just some Midwestern girl who read Q, okay?