The movie provided an insightful look at the Irish struggle for independence from the British. What struck me as particularly interesting is the film's reinforcement of the idea that people tend to tolerate oppression until it becomes intolerable. As elementary as that may seem, I think it's an interesting phenomenon worthy of some reflection. Damien provides, to me, the most interesting example of this: At the beginning of the movie we encounter him as he is preparing to depart to London to practice medicine in "one of the best hospitals in the world." Even after the appearance of the soldiers, which ends in the death of one of his fellow Irishmen (for speaking in Gaelic and fighting back when he is punched), Damien still fully intends to leave, despite his community's insistence that he stay and help. It is only upon his attempt to board the train, which is somewhat interrupted by another group of soldiers' unreasonable harassment of the train driver (and others) that Damien realizes that this oppressive behavior is unlikely to cease unless someone intervenes. In other words, the previously tolerated becomes intolerable for him. At this point he returns to his community and joins the fight against British occupation. Here an ordinary citizen. a doctor, is transformed into a man fighting for a cause.
A scene that I found particularly interesting was the one in which Damien receives the orders to execute Sir John and Chris Reilly. Sir John does not pose much of a problem for Damien, but executing Chris on the other hand proves difficult. We later find out that he and Chris had been close enough to share meals that Chris' mother had prepared. Moreover, Chris' crime was giving in to Sir John and the British soldiers threat to hurt his mother if he did not tell them the truth about his involvement with Damien's rebel group. In this situation, Damien is forced to chose between his love for his country and his love/relationship for/with Chris. Reflecting on the situation he says, "I've known Chris Reilly since he was a child. I hope this Ireland we're fighting for is worth it. " His choosing country leaves him deeply troubled (and maybe even remorseful), not necessarily because he chooses his country, but because the choice resulted in the death of his friend (at Damien's own hand). His regret is evidenced by his informing Chris' mother exactly how her son died, and his later statement to Sinead suggesting that in fighting for his country he had crossed a line; one that he most likely never thought he would cross.