FILM / The last detail

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The Independent Culture
IN Neil Jordan's The Crying Game, Jody, a British squaddie, is held hostage for three days, his head in a sack, his arms tied behind his back, by IRA terrorists. At one point, as you might reasonably expect, he tells Fergus, the guard with whom he has formed a classic captor-captive bond of mutual sympathy, that he has to have a pee; and as his hands can't be untied, it's Fergus who finds himself gingerly unzipping his prisoner's flies and, in the teatime sense of the phrase, 'being Mother'.

I say 'as you might reasonably expect', but is it after all, in the context of a conventional filmic narrative, so very reasonable an expectation? It may seem a point too frivolous to be worth making, but I recall as a child (and I can't be alone in this) being obscurely, naggingly, troubled by the fact that, in the cinema, no one ever, ever, went to the lavatory.

With most movies, of course, the matter scarcely arose, save perhaps in the salacious adolescent mind. Even way back then, one accepted that the cinema's discretion where our quotidian bodily functions were concerned was less an active taboo than a passive convention; if ever they did surface (as in the Carry On cycle), it was invariably as the lowest of low comic devices. But what about Hitchcock's Lifeboat, in which six men share a lifeboat for several days with three women? And not just any women - one of them is Tallulah Bankhead, drawling those trademark 'daaahlings' of hers as if she were still swanning about in some Park Avenue penthouse. Surely, one mused, this enforced proximity must have entailed certain rather humiliating intimacies, intimacies which (in real life, as it were) might have had a real and lasting influence on the characters' relationships with each other?

Well, times have changed. Philip Larkin claimed that 'Sexual intercourse began in 1963', and it was just about then, too, that people in the movies started going to the loo (think of those tightlipped, monosyllabic conversations conducted by racketeers in adjoining urinals). What, however, makes The Crying Game something of a first is that, in a manner that is impossible to foresee, and would be unfair to reveal, the scene in question actually does turn out to be relevant to subsequent plot developments.

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