Neil Jordan 1950–
(Full name Neil Patrick Jordan) Irish screenwriter, director, dramatist, novelist, and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Jordan's career through 1997.
Neil Jordan has been hailed as "one of Ireland's preeminent fiction writers," by Alex Raksin and others, but he is better known as a screenwriter and director of such acclaimed films as Mona Lisa (1986) and The Crying Game (1992). His work reflects his Irish heritage as he explores his country's politics and culture. His unique style combines lyricism and surrealistic images to subvert common notions about such topics as violence, gender, sex, and race.
Jordan was born in 1950 in Sligo, Ireland, but grew up in Dublin. He studied English literature and history at University College in Dublin. He began writing at an early age and published his first short story collection, Night in Tunisia and Other Stories in 1976 while working in theater. The collection won the 1979 Guardian Fiction Prize. Subsequently Jordan wrote for Irish television and the British Broadcasting Corporation. In addition he worked for director John Boorman, helping him on the final draft of Excalibur. Jordan then decided to tackle the film medium himself, writing the screenplay for and directing the film Angel (1982). He continued writing screenplays in addition to writing several novels, and went on to direct several of his own movies. His first critical success came with Mona Lisa, and in 1990 he directed We're No Angels, his first big-budget Hollywood movie. He enjoyed both commercial and critical success with The Crying Game, which won an Academy Award for best screenplay. Jordan has gone on to direct several other successful Hollywood features.
Jordan's work often focuses on people who have gone astray. Angel deals with the political violence in Ireland. The film is set in Northern Ireland and tells the story of Danny, a saxophone player. After playing at a wedding reception, Danny takes a deaf-mute teenager, Annie, outside and makes love to her. While outside, the pair witness four men murder the manager of the band, whom they suspect has paid protection money to a rival paramilitary group. The men also kill Annie and blow up the ballroom. Danny seeks revenge and trades in his saxophone for a gun. He slowly descends into madness and violence as he tracks down the four murderers. Jordan never makes clear the political affiliations in the film; instead he shows how violence of any source causes men to lose their individual identity. Jordan's novel The Dream of a Beast (1983) is filled with imagery and follows a man as he travels through his dreams. The man and his community slowly transform, and the man finds himself identifying more with nature than with society. As he transforms into this "beast" he reverts back to a childlike consciousness. In the process he finds himself closer to his wife and daughter. Jordan's screenplay The Company of Wolves (1984) is based on Angela Carter's short story of the same name. The film is a version of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, which takes the form of a young girl's dreams. The girl visits her grandmother who warns her that all men are wolves in disguise. The girl meets a handsome prince in the forest who turns out to be the wolf of the fairy tale. The film concludes with the girl herself turning into a wolf. The tale is a metaphor for the young girl's awakening sexuality as she encounters the predatory nature of male sexuality. We're No Angels is a film about two convicts serving life sentences in a hard-labor prison. They escape and pretend to be priests while on the run. The Miracle (1991) is a four-person character study of an Oedipal relationship between a mother and the son she gave up for adoption twenty years earlier. The Crying Game has been Jordan's most talked about and controversial film. It follows an ex-IRA soldier, Fergus, as he struggles to atone for the death of a British prisoner. He becomes involved in a relationship with the dead prisoner's girlfriend, who eventually reveals herself to be a man in the conclusion of the film. The film analyzes otherness and overturns common preconceptions about sex, gender, and race. Michael Collins (1996) tells the story of Irish Republican Army founder Michael Collins, and is based on the history and myth surrounding the real man.
Reviewers often discuss the imagery and lyricism in Jordan's work. They also point out the multiple layers and symbolism common to Jordan's fiction and films. Marlaine Glicksman states that "Both his literature and films are like Chinese boxes: stories within a story, films within a film, dreams within a dream." Critics also discuss the place of myth in Jordan's work. In his analysis of Angel, Richard Kearney asserts: "While Jordan would seem to subscribe to the conviction that myths contain what is important about a race, he does not approach the mythical in terms of ancient legend or folklore, but in terms of contemporary lived experience." Jordan is well known for upsetting traditional conceptions about identity, especially in The Crying Game. The film sparked critical discussions surrounding the sexual and racial politics of the film. Some critics argued that the film failed to escape traditional conservative representations. Frann Michel states: "Where its disruptions are insufficient or excessive, the film [The Crying Game] implies a conservative politics at odds with the screenplay's apparent intentions." Most critics, however, praised Jordan for his attempt, and even Michel goes on to say "The Crying Game is visually, intellectually, and emotionally engaging. If the film falls short of the radical innovations it sometimes promises, it nonetheless offers profound dislocations of vision: the chance to try to see anew." David Lugowski agrees, stating: "What is original and special about The Crying Game is its execution, the mileage Jordan gets from the conventions he respects and those he upsets, and the complexity of its discourse on racial and gender issues."
Night in Tunisia and Other Stories (short stories) 1976
The Past (novel) 1980
Angel [writer and director] (screenplay) 1982; released as Danny Boy, 1984
The Dream of a Beast (novel) 1983
The Company of Wolves [with Angela Carter; writer and director] (screenplay) 1984
Mona Lisa [with David Leland; writer and director] (screenplay) 1986
High Spirits [writer and director] (screenplay) 1988
Angel (play) 1989
High Spirits (play) 1989
We're No Angels [director] (film) 1990
The Miracle [writer and director] (screenplay) 1991
The Crying Game [writer and director] (screenplay) 1992
Interview with a Vampire [director] (film) 1994
Sunrise with Sea Monster (novel) 1994
Michael Collins [writer and director] (film) 1996
The Butcher Boy (film) 1998
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SOURCE: "Avenging Angel: An Analysis of Neil Jordan's First Irish Feature Film," in Studies, Vol. LXXI, No. 283, Autumn, 1982, pp. 296-303.
[In the following essay, Kearney praises Jordan's Angel and asserts that "the credit must surely go to Neil Jordan himself whose inspired scripting and directing prove him to be one of the most talented imaginations working in Ireland today."]
Angel, directed by Neil Jordan, is ostensibly a film which deals with political violence in Ireland. I believe it does so in a highly original and perceptive manner. But before analysing and assessing Angel in detail, I think it may be useful to give a brief account of other Irish films to have tackled such a theme.
In 1934, Frank O'Connor's Guests of the Nation, treating of the I.R.A.'s reluctant execution of two British soldiers in 1921, was made into a silent movie. O'Connor was so impressed by the merits of the film, directed in theatrical fashion by Denis Johnston, that he wrote:
The government would be well advised to provide the necessary money to have the picture refilmed. It would add to the prestige of the Irish abroad, as showing the great spirit of the War of Independence and the spirit of comradeship that existed between the opposing forces, as well as the devotion to duty of the men who fought.
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SOURCE: "Saint Jane," in London Review of Books, Vol. 5, No. 19, October 20-November 2, 1983, pp. 17-18.
[In the following excerpt, Jones discusses Jordan's The Dream of a Beast and concludes, "To dismiss this well-tuned story as self-indulgent nonsense would be easy—but very unmusical."]
… Another way to offer experience of a derangement of the senses, especially the exultant, ecstatic sort of derangement, is to make use of our shared knowledge of dreams. Telling other people our dreams often bores them. But anyone who has been taken by the writing of Traherne, or Rimbaud, may turn to Neil Jordan's novel, The Dream of a Beast, without fear of tedium. What happens to the narrator is pleasingly tangible and sensuous, stimulating excitement without fear. The dreamer takes it for granted that the world has changed suddenly—the heat, the pavements cracking, strange plants sprouting thick, oily, unrecognisable leaves over plate-glass windows; he walks to work along the buckled tracts of the railway line, stopping to take advantage of the rare trains but not expecting them. He notices young soldiers getting younger as they prowl efficiently, keeping guard, perhaps obeying some master plan to control the heat.
The narrator is becoming a beast. His skin and his hair are changing. Do the women, the beauties, like this beast? The dreamer seems unable to see himself: he can...
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SOURCE: A review of The Dream of a Beast, in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 5, 1989, p. 4.
[In the following excerpt, Raksin asserts that "Ultimately, then, The Dream of a Beast is an eloquent testament to the value of listening to the poetry of everyday life…."]
Like Blue Velvet and Parents, two recent films about the domestic 1950s, this inspired, surrealistic novel reveals the emotional currents swirling beneath the calm surface of suburban life. But rather than depicting these feelings as a dark, dangerous underworld best suppressed with a smile, as the films have done, Jordan, director of the 1986 film Mona Lisa and one of Ireland's pre-eminent fiction writers, presents them as sources of great energy and creativity. By relating to our environment more viscerally, Jordan suggests, we can overcome the alienation that arises from stultifying routine.
The novel begins with portents of change and decay hanging in the air. A heat wave envelopes the narrator's community and strange blooms begin to grow from cracks in the pavements, easing their way along the shop fronts and covering plate-glass windows with "thick, oily, unrecognizable leaves." The mysterious "changes" begin to transform the narrator as well, who becomes acutely sensitive to his neighborhood for the first time, noticing "the extraordinary scent" of its gardens, "moist and...
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SOURCE: "Irish Eyes," in Film Comment, Vol. 26, No. 1, January-February, 1990, pp. 9-11, 68-71.
[In the following interview, Jordan discusses different influences on his work and how he approaches filmmaking.]
Neil Jordan lives in Bray, near Dublin and even nearer to the Irish Sea, just next door to the house where James Joyce lived and wrote. The setting couldn't be more perfectly suited had he been a character in one of his own stories or films: quintessentially and romantically Irish, yet also one step beyond, off the beaten path. Jordan's "Irishness" comes through most clearly in his literary finesse—including his film scripts—as well as his subterranean Stephen Dedalus-like view of love and sexuality.
The author of a collection of short stories, Night in Tunisia, and the novels The Past and Dream of a Beast, Jordan has written and directed several feature films: Angel, released in the U.S. as Danny Boy, The Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa (co-written with David Leland), High Spirits and, most recently, We're No Angels, penned by David Mamet and starring Robert De Niro and Sean Penn.
Jordan was born in 1950 in Sligo, Ireland, and grew up in Dublin, where he also attended university. Though he had written, since an early age, he studied English literature and history. "You can't study writing here for some strange...
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SOURCE: "Wolves through the Window: Writing Dreams / Dreaming Films / Filming Dreams," in Critical Survey, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1991, pp. 283-89.
[In the following excerpt, Collick discusses the role of dreams in Jordan's The Company of Wolves and asserts that "What is being offered appears to be a parody of the Freudian dream work in which the dream symbols, instead of being scrambled images or 'puzzles' that represent unconscious wishes, turn out to be familiar literary images."]
In this essay I'm going to discuss films of texts which have dreams or dreaming as their central theme. Movies and dreams have always been closely linked. Cinema history is filled with examples of movies that try to imitate the imagery and structure of the dream world, either by making the entire film appear like a dream or by including dreams in the narrative. Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou presents the audience with images that possess the disruptive logic and absurdity of a nightmare. In Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, the solution to a murder is discovered by analysing the dream of an amnesiac who witnessed it and a dream sequence, based on Salvador Dali's paintings, is included in the film. Movies which are not adaptations of texts, like Un Chien Andalou or Jean Cocteau's Testament d'Orphée are often radical because they interrogate the audience's notions of film realism and narrative. Can...
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SOURCE: "Genre Conventions and Visual Style in The Crying Game," in Cineaste, Vol. XX, No. 1, 1993, pp. 31, 33, 35.
[In the following essay, Lugowski asserts, "What is original and special about The Crying Game is its execution, the mileage Jordan gets from the conventions he respects and those he upsets, and the complexity of its discourse on racial and gender issues."]
Much of the talk surrounding the considerable critical and popular success of writer-director Neil Jordan's latest film, The Crying Game, speaks of how unusual the film is: one critic went so far as to term it "unclassifiable," while Miramax executive Gerry Rich attributes its popularity to audience hunger for "unconventional films." Truth to tell, The Crying Game is nothing of the kind. It actually treads some well-worn territory. Like Jordan's last notable success, Mona Lisa (another effort, The Company of Wolves, unfortunately received very little attention), it is a neo-film noir named after a popular song from several decades back, dealing in a fairly conventional visual and narrative style with sexual obsession. Its basic plotline, the "Why am I falling in love with the lover of someone I killed?," cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered original. Even the biggest of the film's twisty surprises may be anticipated by some viewers depending on their own knowledge and...
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SOURCE: "Racial and Sexual Politics in The Crying Game," in Cineaste, Vol. XX, No. 1, 1993, pp. 30, 32, 34.
[In the following essay, Michel analyzes the pitfalls concerning gender, sexuality, and race that Jordan fell into when filming The Crying Game.]
Complex, subtle, and beautifully acted, The Crying Game unmistakably evokes and disrupts conventional expectations about national, racial, and sexual boundaries. In achieving its impressive thematic and visual coherence, however, Neil Jordan's compelling film succumbs to some of the risks entailed in its ambitious project. Where its disruptions are insufficient or excessive, the film implies a conservative politics at odds with the screenplay's apparent intentions. Public discussion of those intentions and accomplishments has been limited, so as not to spoil the film for those who haven't yet seen it. But the engaging intricacy of the film demands a detailed consideration that is impossible without revealing the plot as well as the other means by which the film challenges customary views.
Repeatedly throughout the film, Ian Wilson's camera looks through windows and doorways; shots are framed by carnival booths, by furniture, by the architecture of a construction site, a bar, a stage. What we see is constructed by the frameworks available to us, foregrounding the film's interrogation of conventional boundaries and leading us...
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SOURCE: "The Politics of Denial," in Film Comment, Vol. 29, No. 3, May-June, 1993, pp. 84-86.
[In the following essay, Place discusses how the veiling phenomenon, difference, and uniformity are at work in The Bodyguard and The Crying Game.]
The good thing about middlebrow art is that it nicely reflects society's dull edge. Unlike the avant garde, it makes no particular pretense toward advancement; unlike absolute schlock, it doesn't wallow in the retrograde. Middlebrow art is feel-good art: the world may not be this pleasant yet, but we can spend a lot of money creating an accessible façade. And our current middlebrow ideal is a quiet, placid, Coke-commercial kind of world where race is irrelevant, gender immaterial, and sexuality beside the point.
But these fantasies are dangerous. We are awash in our own whitewash. Popular culture cuddles around the notion of love as the great leveler, promoting a false sense of individual social equality and carefully stacking the deck to prevent reality seepage. Today's mass media celebrate the myth of universal harmony and transcendent togetherness, to the exclusion of all contrary evidence. Love not only conquers all, it masks the domination.
The Bodyguard and The Crying Game are two recent examples of the veiling phenomenon at work. Though the films seem to broach that which is potentially and historically...
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SOURCE: "The Virtuous Terrorist: Stanley Hauerwas and The Crying Game," in Cross Currents, Vol. 43, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp. 230-35.
[In the following essay, Gerber uses the work of Stanley Hauerwas to analyze the character of Fergus and his moral formation in Jordan's The Crying Game.]
What startled me about The Crying Game was the way the film seemed to center on the very notions of character, virtue, and Christian moral formation that Stanley Hauerwas has been developing over the past two decades. Could this be? In a film devoid of any reference to the church? One about an IRA terrorist?
A friendship between enemies generates the film's movement. Fergus Hennessy is an Irish Republican Army "volunteer," determined to follow orders. Commanded to guard a tied-up hostage, Jody, he immediately exposes his own face, offers food, and initiates conversation. In a funny but oddly profound scene, Fergus must take the prisoner's penis out of his pants so he can urinate—an act which tests the limits of his compassion. Though the captive differs radically from himself (Jody is English, black, a soldier, and—presumably—a Protestant), Fergus finds him interesting and worthy of fellowship. Other guards avoid fraternization, but Fergus repeatedly yields to its charms.
Appointed to execute Jody, he requests permission to keep him company during his last night on...
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SOURCE: "Crossing Games: Reading Black Transvestism at the Movies," in Critical Matrix, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1994, pp. 109-25.
[In the following essay, Russell traces the crossing over of race, gender, and sexual categories by the character of Dil in Jordan's The Crying Game, and the cultural implications of our reading of Dil.]
In Neil Jordan's 1992 film, The Crying Game, mainstream American moviegoers experience and participate in reviving latent cultural dreams of sexual and social taboo. A conspiracy not to disclose the film's "secret" spread like wildfire throughout the nation, adding fuel to the fire of transgressive appeal. Such appeal, however, goes beyond the observation that Dil, a black transvestite, surprises the viewer when "she" reveals "her" penis midway through the film. Critics, both the official and the armchair varieties, skip over Dil's gendered blackness as if race and gender were mere complications secondary to the spotlighted event of the penis revelation. Haunted by this critical absence, I set out in this essay to examine how Dil, described by one movie critic as a "seductive, tough-talking, light-skinned beauty," seduces the viewer by physically embodying complicated and intertwined acts of racial and gender crossing. What interests me is how these crossings acquire transgressive appeal in a culture ridden with stereotypes of black female sexuality. It seems, after all,...
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SOURCE: "Sexing The Crying Game: Difference, Identity, Ethics," in Film Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3, Spring, 1994, pp. 31-42.
[In the following essay, Handler argues that "because it takes inadequate account of the way difference has been and is always available as an occasion and an excuse for the inscription of power, the film [The Crying Game] ends up displacing the hierarchical relations that obtain between men and reinscribing them in the realm of sexual difference."]
To what did Jordan's film The Crying Game owe its extraordinary success? Evidently the sheer fact of the film's vigorously promoted and initially well-kept secret drew crowds of the merely curious, but how were audiences affected once they were let in on it? Why did the film "work"—and get rewarded for its efforts by good box-office attendance, an Oscar, and general critical approval? Appending the missing part of Jordan's censored description (from an early interview) of the film's central predicament, we might well ask whether the story of a man who becomes humanized by a romantic relationship with another man who appears to be, and identifies as, a woman does not present a real challenge to normative convictions about the nature of sexual identity and preference. The film's success seems all the more remarkable for having coincided with the height of the furor over whether openly gay men and woman should be...
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SOURCE: "Bending Phallic Patriarchy in The Crying Game," in Journal of Popular Film and Television, Vol. 22, No. 4, Winter, 1995, pp. 172-79.
[In the following essay, Boozer, Jr. analyzes how in The Crying Game, "Jordan emphasizes the construction of sexual difference in the context of political ideology and race, and the role of all three in cultural representation generally."]
Irish writer-director Neil Jordan has set off a firestorm of serious critical response with his contemporary fable The Crying Game. Most of the film's tableaux are constructed around incendiary sexual seductions that deceive his positive characters and the unwary spectator into misreadings of the objects of desire. In particular, Jordan emphasizes the construction of sexual difference in the context of political ideology and race, and the role of all three in cultural representation generally.
The question for some observers has been whether The Crying Game's challenge to gender conventions goes far enough, or is sufficiently free of traditional patriarchal bias. Dual articles recently published in Cineaste find Jordan's film to be multitextured and engaging on several levels but go on to raise reservations about the ideological import of the film's nationalistic, gender, and racial discourses. Frann Michel's analysis interrogates the fact that "the only good woman in the film...
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SOURCE: A review of Michael Collins, in The American Historical Review, Vol. 102, No. 1, February, 1997, pp. 248-49.
[In the following review, Moran asserts that, "Michael Collins is a superior film that presents a legitimate interpretation of Collins's life and times."]
In the various controversies that swirl around Irish history, a few historical figures serve as ideological touchstones. One's opinions about them reveal much about how one views the nature of Irish politics and questions about Irish identity. Along with Patrick Pearse and Eamonn De Valera, perhaps no person serves this role so well as Michael Collins, arguably the founder of the Irish Republican Army and the soldier who won an independent Irish state at the cost of partition, civil war, and his own life.
Michael Collins is Neil Jordan's attempt to tell the tale of Collins from his participation as a minor player in the Easter Rising of 1916 through his major role in the Irish war of independence and the Irish civil war until his death at the hands of former comrades. The film is, however, less a historical biography than a cinemagraphic portrait of the myth of Michael Collins as well as a statement about the nature of things in Ireland since 1922.
Film is a wholly different thing from history. It must compress events, can make interpretive assumptions, and is not constrained by...
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Badley, Linda. "Deconstructions of the Gaze." In her Film, Horror, and the Body Fantastic, pp. 101-23. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Asserts that in The Company of Wolves, Jordan and Angela Carter "represent female subjectivity and propose a female gaze."
Harmon, Maurice. "First Impressions: 1968–78." In The Irish Short Story, edited by Patrick Rafroidi and Terence Brown, pp. 63-77. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press Inc., 1979.
Compares Jordan's work to that of his Irish contemporaries and asserts that he differs from other Irish writers in his view of character and in his style.
Shrimpton, Nicholas. "Cold Feet in Moscow." New Statesman 100, No. 2590 (7 November 1980): p. 30.
Criticizes Jordan's The Past for being steeped in nostalgia.
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