Imagine a future where your past could disappear in an instant. Everything you’ve ever done or will ever do is erased from your memory so that the present is literally an open canvas. Would life be easier or would we float amongst each other like hollow shells desperate for some semblance of being?
Identity after all depends so much on past failures and accomplishments, on what we’ve already done and what we hope to do. Granted, the past can also haunt our present in various ways, in ways that make living crippling. For some, the past can be a literal nightmare and the only escape lies in a realm where it becomes irrelevant. Martin McDonagh’s film “In Bruges” uncovers the untimely ways in which the past unearths the present and the effect it has on those who dwell on it.
Ray (Colin Farrell) is a hired gun. He waits for a call, he makes his mark, he moves on. While awaiting orders for their next hit, Ray and his partner in crime Ken (Brendan Gleeson) arrive in Bruges, Belgium to utter disappointment. Bruges is plain, boring, and nothing like the London metropolis that Ray desperately craves. Ken believes however, that there is a beauty in the unknown and convinces Ray, who reluctantly agrees, to go sight-seeing with him. While sight-seeing, Ray meets Chloè (Clémence Poésy), a drug dealing femme fetale, scouring a film set in search of her next crack client. Ken meanwhile returns to the hotel and realises that he’s missed a telephone call from Harry (Ralph Fiennes), their notorious and intolerable crime boss. Gallivanting on their own adventures, Ray and Ken will eventually discover that Bruges dares to be a fairy tale town…with a potentially unhappy ending.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh “In Bruges” stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jordan Prentice and Clémence Poésy. Much of the film takes place in Bruges, the cinematography thoughtfully accentuating the city and all its charms through the eyes of Ray and Ken. McDonagh’s screenplay is clever and is undeniably the thread that weaves the entire film together. The script thrives heavily on witty interplays between multiple characters especially Farrell’s Ray and Gleeson’s Ken as they all try to navigate the world of Bruges and their place in it. The narrative however relies not only on the film’s set up and the transparent world that is Bruges, but also on the unordinary. There are rules that guide this world, ones that cannot go unchecked and if they do, the consequences will be fatal. Of course, rules are made to be broken and Ray breaks the rules to great effect but he cannot successfully break the rules without a few repercussions.
Thematically, the film untangles the weight of forgiveness and humility and what it does to the human condition. Although much of the film is seen through Ray’s perspective, viewers do get a chance to glimpse hell on earth through Ken’s eyes. Ken has been a hit man much longer than Ray. He is much more capable of hiding his demons beneath his stoic demeanour. He doesn’t let them affect him in the same way that it does Ray. Ray revels in his own torture, idealising Bruges as a prison filled with hidden doors and secret cobblestone passageways. Along with forgiveness, the film also touches on the role of hypocrisy: the fault line between what we say and do in contrast with what we believe is true. Hypocrites are all around us, they colour the world in spades and in a world cluttered with morality, mistakes are sometimes forgiven but are never forgotten.
For Ray the past becomes reminder that the future is forever tainted and Bruges is a wonderland in which the present is an illusion. Ultimately, “In Bruges” gives us a chance to be honest with ourselves even if death might be the only fair consequence.