The ‘Piercing Breach of a Border’: Irish Cinema as a Mediator of Modern Trauma

in Testimony and Trauma
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From the box office successes of Philomena and ’71 to lesser-known, but critically acclaimed works such as Calvary and Silent Grace, Irish cinema’s sustained interest in cultural and personal trauma indicates its popularity as a topic within both the Irish film industry and wider Irish society. Recent political, social, and legal changes have provided a new space in which the telling of stories on both a personal and societal level has become possible. Consequently, Irish cinema has become an important medium through which these previously marginalised and obscured voices may be heard. Engaging with Judith Herman’s theory that the emergence of stories requires a specific context, my chapter examines social, legal, and political history to establish why previously unheard voices began to emerge in the Republic of Ireland in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Concentrating on The Magdalene Sisters (2002), Philomena (2013), and Calvary (2014), my chapter examines cinematic representations of those ‘othered’ and abjected by a society enabled by what James M. Smith terms ‘Ireland’s Architecture of Containment’: Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, Reformatory Schools, and Industrial Schools. This chapter explores how these representations enabled the disintegration of the division between the free self and the institutionalised other, and how this collapse triggered society’s realisation that it, too, was responsible for this trauma. Through close examination of pivotal scenes from pre-report films such The Magdalene Sisters (2002), directed by Peter Mullan, and post-report films such as Philomena (2013), directed by Stephen Frears,and Calvary (2014), directed by John Michael McDonagh, my chapter also examines how, if at all, Irish cinema has explored possible paths in the journey from traumatic rupture to reconciliation.

Testimony and Trauma

Engaging Common Ground


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