Evelyn, The Isle of Saints and Sadists
By John Denvir
I can only view the Irish film
Evelyn through the eyes of an Irish-American, a fact which
probably makes it a different film for me than for other viewers.
Most viewers will judge it a charming little confection just
right for consumption during the holiday season. And I readily
admit that it is a heart-warming tale of a family overcoming
hardship to share in the inevitable happy ending.
I think an online journal on law and popular culture might point
out an aspect of the film not likely to be discussed in the most
reviews. On the popular culture front, it's important to note
how much the film's "heartwarming effect" is the product
of the cynical recycling of stereotypes about the Irish. I'll
just mention three to illustrate my point.
We have early in the movie
the appearance of the virile, yet asexual priest, who is equally
adept with a quip or a left hook. Here he decks the protagonist
and then ministers to him physically and spiritually. I bet he
also croons a mean "Danny Boy." This type cleric is
a throwback to Bing Crosby in "The Bells of St. Mary's"
and I am sure it is a comfort to Catholics in these times of
priestly travail. He's a positive stereotype, but no less a stereotype
Secondly, we have the drunken
legal scholar whose love of the law is only matched by his love
of the bottle. In Evelyn, Alan Bates plays a retired law
professor who temporarily overcomes his weakness for the drink
to concoct the legal theory which brings Evelyn back to her family.
This, you will recall, is exactly the same role that Jimmy Stewart's
Irish- American sidekick Parnell McCarthy played in Anatomy
of a Murder. The Irish and whiskey is a comic combination
that Irish-American John Ford made a Hollywood cliche and Evelyn
plays it to the hilt. In fact, most of the male characters seem
to be either alcoholics or reformed alcoholics. It would be refreshing
to see an Irishman with a cocaine problem for a change.
Finally, there is Holy Mother
Church. The Church in Evelyn is mainly represented by
two nuns in the orphanage where Evelyn is sent. One is is a direct
descendant of Loretta Young in Come to the Stable. She's
pretty, bright, warm-hearted, and, above all, fun-loving. The
other has a less well-documented history in Hollywood films,
but represents a type growing in popularity as the Church continues
to lose its influence on its portrayal in popular culture. She
is a new incarnation of the Wicked Witch of the West in The
Wizard of Oz. Not only is she cruel and violent; she also
no fun at all. We might say that Evelyn portrays Ireland
as the Isle of Saints and Sadists.
Of course, if popular culture
didn't employ popular stereotypes it would quickly become unpopular
culture. We rely on generalizations to interpret a plot and stock
stereotypes make the viewer's job a lot easier. It will always
be with us. So it doesn't make sense to watch and write about
popular film with too critical an eye. But perhaps we can keep
reminding ourselves every time we see film depictions of groups
we personally know little about ( Arabs come to mind) that it's
just a movie.
Posted January 22, 2003