Sunday, January 27, 2008

Loach's Use of Irony in The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a 2006 independent film by English director Ken Loach set in twentieth century Ireland. The film depicts the fictional account of two brothers in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. European criticism tend to emphasize Loach's depiction of Irish history and colonial tensions between England and Ireland. However, I will instead offer a brief analysis Loach's use of role reversal and parallels in his expression of cosmic irony in the movie.

In The Wind That Shakes the Barley, cosmic irony is manifested in identical intentions, yet opposite fates of the brothers Damien and Teddy O'Donovan. Loach achieves this effect by effectively switching the roles of older O'Donovan brother, Teddy, and that of the British occupational forces, which both brothers and the Irish Republican Army, has been opposed to since the beginning of the movie. Accordingly, Damien and Teddy are forced into conflict with one another because of their opposing political beliefs: Teddy believes that Ireland cannot achieve complete independence from Britain and therefore supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty; Damien refuses to submit to the terms of the treaty and swear an oath of loyalty to the English government, and instead does not support the treaty and believes the Irish Republican party should continue to fight for independence. Teddy effectively transforms into the original oppressor, and even adopts the green uniform and equipment of the British soldier, and yet both brothers are still fighting for a better future for their country.

This opposition between the O'Donovans climaxes when Teddy orders the death of his brother and effectively dissolves his relationship with his family for the sake of his politics. It becomes apparent at this point that Loach reinforces his irony by using parallels: where once his brother Damien was spurned and rejected by the family of a man he had slain, so does his brother Teddy face the same rejection at the hands of his brother's lover at the end of the movie. The same building in which Teddy was tortured for information and confessions from the British army becomes the location of Damien's imprisonment, and where he too must be emotionally tormented by the pleas of his brother for submission. By the end of the movie, Damien is forced to use guerrilla tactics once reserved for the British army against the new Irish army and his brother; An identical raid against a barracks that was the beginning of the Irish Republican Party's success when the two brothers were united becomes the end of another, when a raid against an Irish army barracks is the fatal maneuver of Damien and results in his subsequent capture.

The above is only a brief admiration of Loach's storytelling techniques in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. The use of parallel enhances the cathartic effects of Damien's death at the movie's end. Future analysis might invite comparisons between this movie and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather series, which operated using similar techniques.

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