|One summer away from home during my undergraduate studies at Rhodes College in Memphis I spent a summer taking classes at St. John’s College, one of the 29 schools that make up Oxford University.
It was truly a magical time. I took amazing courses ranging from art and architectural history to early English spirituality and got to see some of the gems of English and European travel.
Therefore, it always interests me to see movies set in and around Oxford or other parts of my traveling be they good or bad. It serves as a reminder to some of my most treasured memories.
I remember calling home before one weekend trip “across the pond,” as the British say, and I was given a very stern warning on something that had to be done on my trip.
When I told my mother, Jeanne Bragg, that the upcoming weekend we were taking a trip to Bruges, Belgium, her reply was “If you miss an opportunity to go to Bruges, you’re out of the will.”
Needless to say I went. I also loved every single minute of the trip.
I write all of this to tell you about one of my favorite films of the past few years, Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges.”
The film stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hit men who are sent to Bruges by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) after a botched assassination attempt on a priest. You may remember Gleeson as Mad Eye Moody from the Harry Potter films or as Hamish from “Braveheart.”
First, I must tell you this film is much more “Braveheart” than “The Boy Who Lived.”
While Farrell’s character (Ray) kills the priest, he also makes the mistake of shooting a young boy, killing them both.
For a little bit of background, Bruges is one of the most well preserved medieval cities in Europe. Entering it is like stepping back into time. About 600 to 1,000 years back, to be accurate.
Full of haunting early and late Gothic architecture, Bruges seems untouched by modern hands. The buildings range from fairy tale to seriously scary with innumerable gargoyles, pointing groin vaults, and the bizarre characteristics of northern Renaissance Art.
It’s a perfect place to play host to the film. While Ken, a natural tourist, loves the “fairy tale” qualities of the city, Ray is constantly bothered by the realities of his situation and only focuses on the darker qualities of Bruges.
Before the Renaissance began, artists focused on the scarier sides of human nature when they portrayed Biblical scenes in their paintings.
They showed humans in constant suffering, an effort to remind the downtrodden poor people in feudal Europe that life on Earth was constant pain, and they had to focus on the benefits of getting into Heaven to enjoy the world around them.
How could a director make such a seemingly depressing subject bearable to watch?
The film is hilarious.
I hate to use a cliché, but if you looked up “dark comedy” in the dictionary, it should say “See: In Bruges.”
Riddled with profanity and horrible things no one should say (but your glad someone else says them so you won’t go to Hell for it), the film gets past the deeply difficult situations of the characters by making you laugh at them in another form or fashion.
The only thing that makes Ray happy in the city is that he meets a beautiful drug-dealer (Chloe) who moonlights as a production assistant on a film being shot in the city and gets her to go out with him.
While Ray and Chloe are out at dinner, he frankly reveals to her that he is a hitman and she follows suit, telling him that she sells drugs to Belgian film crews.
When a man with an American accent berates Ray because of Chloe’s smoking, Ray ends up punching the man and his wife, telling him “That’s for John Lennon.”
One great thing about the film is that the humor helps you get past the violence, as well as the way the characters forgive themselves for what they do has the quality of making your mind up for you so that you skip the morality without thinking about it.
While Ray is at dinner, Ken gets the call from the boss and learns he has to kill Ray for the death of the child.
Their boss, Harry, sent them to Bruges as a last gift for Ray. Funny, since Ray hates it.
I’ll leave the rest for you to find out.
A great cast, incredible dialogue, and beautiful shots of one of my favorite places in the world, “In Bruges” is a great film that anyone over the legal voting age should watch at least once.
I’ll bet you’ll watch it twice, though.