Neil Jordan Essay - Critical Essays

Jordan, Neil


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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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."

Principal Works

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


Richard Kearney (essay date Autumn 1982)

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...

(The entire section is 4953 words.)

D. A. N. Jones (review date 20 October-2 November 1983)

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....

(The entire section is 380 words.)

Alex Raksin (review date 5 February 1989)

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...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Neil Jordan with Marlaine Glicksman (interview date January-February 1990)

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...

(The entire section is 3616 words.)

John Collick (essay date 1991)

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...

(The entire section is 2632 words.)

David Lugowski (essay date 1993)

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...

(The entire section is 2378 words.)

Frann Michel (essay date 1993)

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...

(The entire section is 1584 words.)

Vanessa Place (essay date May-June 1993)

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...

(The entire section is 2143 words.)

Leslie E. Gerber (essay date Summer 1993)

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...

(The entire section is 1950 words.)

Hawley Russell (essay date 1994)

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...

(The entire section is 5199 words.)

Kristin Handler (essay date Spring 1994)

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 entire section is 6656 words.)

Jack Boozer, Jr. (essay date Winter 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 4651 words.)

Seán Farrell Moran (review date February 1997)

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...

(The entire section is 954 words.)

Further Reading


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...

(The entire section is 138 words.)