Friday Film Review: Into the West

Old Lady:  “You can’t take that horse onto the lift.”

Little Boy:  “I have to. The stairs would fucking kill him.”

                                                                                Into the West (1992).

The drunken revelers started up last weekend, college kids in goofy hats, increasingly offensive t-shirts, and green New Orleans love beads, lining up at Finnegans Wake on Spring Garden, weaving down Spruce, and jamming any bar that has an apostrophe in its title.  But since tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I add to the festivities by taking a look at a wonderful–and somewhat underrated–Irish film, Into the West.

The film is the story of two boys, their widowed father, and their bleak existence in the tower flats of North Dublin. When the boys’ grandfather (the inimitable and late David Kelly) arrives suddenly with a majestic white horse, the young boys’ lives are transformed.  There are conflicts with the police (hard to hide a horse in your 7th floor flat), with undesirable racing buffs, and with the upper-class “gentry,” as well as a sweet nod to Irish myth and the legend of tir na Nog.

Written by Jim Sheridan (and two others) and starring Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin–who were married to each other at the time–the film traces these two young boys and their dreams of going into the West.  Except for them the West is the American West of cowboys and Indians, of gunslingers and tumbleweeds. It is a far cry from the fields and rocks of Galway and Mayo.  Yet sure enough when the authorities come after them–they retake their horse from a high-stakes horserace–the boys gallop into the West.  It is here that Irish myth comes into play and the ending of the film is certain to raise a lump in your throat at the very least.  Yet, to me, it is wonderful.

I saw Into the West on the last day that it was playing in the theaters in Philly.  I wanted everyone to see it, so when my young daughters begged off because they had too much homework, I famously told them that they “would have homework the rest of their lives, but they would get to go see this only once.”  To this day, I am glad I forced them to go.  And I think they are as well.

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