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|Written by April Yorke|
|Wednesday, 13 May 2009 19:00|
Simply put, The Boondock Saints is not a particularly good movie. It's a top rate shoot-'em-up actioner and a heck of a lot of fun to watch, but it's not good. There's an entire documentary devoted to depicting writer-director Troy Duffy as a dick of epic proportions, making it additionally hard to root for the yet-to-materialize sequel. And yet Duffy has a curious way of marrying Old Testament quotes, Catholic dogma, and Celtic mythology to add gravitas to a movie that is, essentially, about how fun it would be to kill everyone you deemed unworthy of life (wait, that's what motivates Jigsaw, isn't it?).
In The Boondock Saints, fraternal twins Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) McManus follow a directive they believe they received from on high to kill "that which is evil" in Boston. Actually, their first kills are really more of a case of self defence. It just happens to work out that the men the McManus brothers kill are Russian mafia. When the brothers receive their command to keep up the good work, it is with a flash of lightening and water dripping from a crack in the ceiling in the shape of the cross, splashing on their foreheads and chests as a baptism into this new life. (Start at 6:40)
Unfortunately for the brothers, these evildoers consist mostly of members of the Mafia, so the Italian don (Carlo Rota) hires an assassin (Bill Connolly) to take them out. Unfortunately for the Mob, the assassin - revealed to be the orphaned men's father - joins his sons in their quest.
The trinity formed by the twins and their father appears to be a representation of the Holy Trinity, but it actually harkens back to a much earlier Irish/Celtic tradition. Consider: "The Three shall spread their blackened wings and be the vengeful striking hammer of God." Duffy has carefully constructed the line to hew closely to the King James Version Old Testament quotes that litter the narration. At first glance, the idea of "blackened wings" calls forth ideas of fallen angels and of the angel of death. Furthermore, "the Three" references the family as a mirror of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Celtic mythology there exist a trio of warrior goddess sisters, the Mórrígan, who frequently appeared as either crows or ravens. They were "scavengers of the dead, symbolizing their simultaneous rule over life and its limits." The sisters would appear either to embolden men before a battle or else to fill them with fear for their impending doom. Lest it be thought that the leap from women to men be too great for Mr. Duffy to contemplate, the Mórrígan were also known to be shape-shifters. As executioners of a wide range of "sinners," Connor and Murphy certainly exert their rule over life.
Their father, who goes only by the title of Il Duce (a strange reference to Mussolini considering he's Irish), has developed such a reputation for his work that he is spoken of only in whispers throughout the film. It helps convey the idea that he, too, strikes fear into the hearts of men.
Of course, Duffy's happy to throw more overt references to ancient mythology into the mix, especially incongruous ones. In discussing the significance of the pennies left over the eyes of the dead, the detectives take time to explain the Greek and Roman mythological custom of paying the boatman to ferry the dead's souls across the River Styx to the gates of Judgment.
They attribute the continued tradition to three ethnic groups: Italians, Greeks, and Sicilians. Naturally, this bit of historical exposition does not fit with the religious background Duffy has already set up for his subjects. He has belaboured his characters' Irish Catholicism, yet they hold to a ritual that is related neither to their ethnic grouping nor their religion. Duffy has already set his protagonists in a world steeped with Catholic imagery: his Irish lads begin the movie attending at a St. Patrick's Day mass, are often seen with their rosaries close at hand, and wake up early each day to go to church to pray. Moreover, the movie relies heavily on voice over narration that is either derived from or meant to reflect the lyricism of the King James Bible.
Even as they place the pennies, the brothers also remove and display their wooden rosaries. Maybe Duffy just didn't realize that Catholic people probably don't worry themselves over the River Styx.* Or perhaps the pennies represent, on some level, the contrition of the brothers since they are concerned with the safe passage of their victims into the afterlife. Ah, Catholic guilt. So powerful it afflicts even those who believe they are on a mission from God to follow rituals that have nothing to do with their religion.
Between the mythology and the pseudo-Biblical voice-overs, Duffy attempts to infuse the murderous actions of his "heroes" with a sense of divine purpose. He assumes just enough knowledge of Catholicism from his viewer that anything that falls outside of the bounds of said knowledge would be racked up to the realm of dogma: some kind of unknowable, less than Biblical tradition that Protestants do not embrace.
Mind you, I might be assuming a little too much here on the part of a man given to wearing overalls with no shirt underneath. Perhaps Duffy's not as well versed in ancient mythology as I suggest. Perhaps he just threw anything and everything in there to prevent his ultra-violent murder spree from leaving a bad taste in viewer's mouths. I'm pretty sure Reedus' unstable accent does that all on its own. And yet, intentional or not, it's still a lot of fun to watch. Who hasn't considered ganking thieves, murders, or those people who walk three abreast on the sidewalk and won't move for oncoming pedestrians? Oh, wait . . .
Lisa M. Bitel. Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.
Jean Markale. Women of the Celts. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1986.
*Come to think of it, the biker bar run by the Fitzpatricks on Veronica Mars was also called the River Styx. Coincidence?
It is a blessing that in this word there may be a place where you can control
in life we all wont for God and we want for good. We sin for we are in the way of the devil and never know better but good and evil is in us and we know what needs to be done and in this movie we find that good can control us and no matter what we can find it in ourselves by loving the actors as they show us how it could be and fuku you for your s**t. And from your post it seems to show how lacking you are in life. May God bless you and help you find the power and will of them to stand for what is true.
I love Boondock Saints. It's one of my favorites, and I rarely fall in love with movies. I'l like to add on, because I mostly read this to hear about your take on the baptism scene, my personal favorite.