The movie is underpinned by the IRA bombings that take a hit at a pub in Guildford, England and that brings the British legal prowlers to trace down Gerard Conlon – who had been in Guildford, staying at an old friend’s house with a bunch of squatters – from Belfast along with another of his friends, Paul Hill; thus flipping into a trail of lining up suspects by the virtue of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and incidentally making it one of the biggest shows of the loop-holed British legal system.
We are also struck by the in-prison unfurling of greater emotions hurled by Day-Lewis in his responses to the cold, ever-bleak atmosphere of the prison. The enclosure makes him question so many things, that he makes way for emotional whines and matures into being someone like his father; he gets to become more humane, with a greater appreciation of the quiet Christian faith. The estrangement that so characterized the father-son relationship melts into greater exchanges of intimacy and love. The movie also stands stationed in the lore of counter-culture that was so defining in the 1960’s and 70’s. We have these lyrics come up at the very inception of the movie:
In the Name of the Whiskey
In the Name of the Song
You didn’t look back
You didn’t belong
In the Name of the Reason
In the Name of the Hope
In the Name of the Religion
In the Name of Dope
In the Name of Freedom
You Drifted Away
To see the Sun Shining
On Someone’s else’s day
In the Name of the United and BBC
In the Name of Georgie Best and LSD
In the Name of the Father
And his wife, the spirit
You said, you didn’t
They said you did it
In the Name of Justice
In the Name of Fun
In the name of Sun
These lyrics very much accentuate the culture against which this movie progresses. You seem more convinced of the whole theme around which Day-Lewis proceeds on: a biting disregard towards everything countering his sense of liberty, which he wants to so exercise in every other situation.; even in militarily-teemed Belfast, where he is seen stealing scrap metal from above the roofs of the houses goes around like a petty thief. It also seems pitched, when we hear him say, ‘What I was looking for in London, was free love and dope’; when he had been sent to London to swoop for something viable and not make a mess of himself in the troubled streets of Belfast, where he was only found pouncing upon the edges of vagrancy.
The movie is intertwined with the violent and bumpy historical backdrop concerning Ireland and the United Kingdom. Some historical antecedents should be brought in, for a little shine over the shoe. Irishmen sought a Republic free of the British at the helm. Ireland was deeply rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition, quite in conflict with Britain; as they were in the line of Anglicanism: a form of Christianity under a definitive influence of the Reformation, that sought for a slant towards a more divergent, varied interpretation of the Christian tradition, than was the case in the Middle Ages or before. So, the Irish people always were in direct conflict with the colonial aggression of Britain and their denominational difference.
This paved the way for many strifes between both the entities until being exacerbated into a graver one: the Irish War of Independence. It went from 1919 to 1921, with Irish Republican Army and British Forces embattled and had brutality touch its peak. This made even King George V pluck his senses and he went for an Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, putting the fire out. The Treaty went for a divide: Ireland was divided into an Irish Free State (Catholic Dominion) holding twenty-six counties and Northern Ireland (Protestant), having six counties. But the Irish nationalism never bulged out of the fringe. It remained just there. That was fully exemplified by the Provisional IRA that was functional in the Troubles of the seventies and was mainly established in 1969; along with the violence-decrying Official IRA.
The Provisional IRA went for a rigorous militant barrage during the early 1970s and amongst one of his targets was a pub in Guildford, England, that was struck on October 5, 1974. The bombing then leads to a months-long trail of fishing for suspects and eventually detaining them for seven days under the Act; without incriminating them. A coerced conviction in the prison, procured by torturous tactics, then follows up into variedly numbered sentences in the prison for the Guildford Four – a band for three men and a girl, wrongfully incriminated in the bombing – and Maguire Seven – a family of seven along with Gerard’s father, indicted for bearing explosives.
The prison sequences in the movie seem so embossed with emotional drudgery, that one feels entitled to the melancholia that so defines an inmate. In one particular scene, Day-Lewis stares into the wall – thinking about his family – and embraces the monotony of being in such enclosures by feeling emotionally isolated from his kins and thus making up for memories, faded by emotional atrophy: that prisons so embody. A verisimilitude seems to overshadow; a made-up placidness seems to be imposed over body over the constancy of pain; eventually making it meaningless.
Prison, sure, is a terrible thing to be in; the mere thought of being crept into a dark cellar and being cuffed to a constant fear of listlessness every other day; sure terrifies even the tough amongst us. Being free, being able to clinch every day anew; with passions to follow, with rocks to gallop over: is surely something we all relish. Being all-out free seems to unlock us the world to be trampled upon.
Gerard Conlon lived a reckless life; had never thought that his actions – even though not jail-worthy – would make him ward off the freedom that he so prided, and retire to a prison. The ramblings that defined his life didn’t have any critics other than his pacifist father, and as his hooliganism washes off into direct contact with his vulnerability in a prison, the burden only gets amplified. But no sooner does his father die than, he truly feels the existential crisis; and gets troubled with edgy prongs of morality, which had perhaps been blinded to him by a culturally relativistic outlook. His father goes by a morally fair view over life and sprouts clichés for every occasion.
He always seems to be in an emotional conflict with his son; in defense of a pacifistic outlook over life and thus, he feels calmed overhearing his son, not smoking or such – in one of the scenes. Giuseppe seems concerned with being on moral high and thus is always making injunctions to Gerry over getting his act together; that sure is very fatherly, but it seems in conflict with what defined that age; even though for a short period, but with greater influence. A brief creep into the culture-defining the 1960s and the ’70s would be better. These very decades were highly upped on a dissent towards what makes up a culture dominant and its patriarchal proclivities.
As Theodore Roszack defines it in his The Making of the Counter-Culture (New York; 1969) ‘It’s a culture so radically disaffiliated from the mainstream assumptions of our society that it scarcely looks to many as a culture at all, but takes on the alarming appearance of a barbaric intrusion’. The highly charged aura of the seventies was foundational to a myriad number of influences. There was a heightened embrace of subjectivism and that incidentally did away with the ideological trenches of the society.
As Ralph Larkin puts it: First, it opened up American society to the inclusion of non-Western thought forms, including Hindu spiritualism and Buddhist notions of reality, both of which denigrated the material world. Second, it ushered in notions of ecological or holistic thinking, as opposed to the linearity of scientiﬁc thought. (Counterculture: 1960’s and beyond:2015). There was a radically transformative, utopian outlook derived by watching the society go into a ruckus of technical dehumanization. Hordes of young people went into thinking of a better place to live in: there came in unapologetic rationales for a revolution to strike the land off.
Another thing that pegged the hippies was the use of LSD – lysergic acid diethylamide – as a mind-altering drug and was shot off, for expansive consciousness; so those newer ideals could be sought up for the shabby state of the world. Aldous Huxley, who also experimented with such drugs, wrote in his The Doors of Perception in 1954, on rocking mescaline; ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ There was also this repulsion towards the entrenched socio-political consensus amongst the parental generation; who had been disoriented by depression, war, and such fissures and thus settled for the technocratic set up to bring in efficiency in social security, large-scale co-ordination of men and resources, ever-higher levels of affluence and ever more impressive manifestations of collective human power (Roszack; 1969): hence allowing for a society of technical discipline and risking all-out surveillance.
On such a state of technical scrutiny, we could refer to what Foucault said in one of his interviews by Roger-Pol Droit, that ‘What is so astonishing about the fact that our prisons resemble our factories, schools, military bases, and hospitals – all of which in turn resemble prisons?