Revisiting In Bruges

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Film, perhaps more than any other medium, has the power to move the widest range of people. It is at turns both an extraordinarily public experience yet also intimate and private. A place where we can see our wildest dreams made real as well as see our humble lives played out for tears and for laughs. We are revisiting some of the films that have shaped us and trying to grasp why. 

The opening lines of In Bruges Martin McDonagh’s 2008 black comedy, “I threw the gun in the Thames and washed the blood off my hands”- throws us straight into the action as two Irish Catholic hitmen flee to Belgium following a botched job.

The pair are Ray and Ken, and their dynamic relationship is what makes this a such a compelling film. Ken is the father figure, protective of the younger Ray until the very end. He is the stereotypical Lonely Planet tourist who wanders the streets of Bruges open mouthed, guide book firmly at the ready. Ray provides a contrast, his main focuses being women and beer.

The film at turns feels like a travel documentary with the viewer touring the medieval city with the pair.  They lead us through the cathedrals and picturesque squares, and up the steps of the critical, climactic bell-tower. As with all McDonagh’s characters, the men are neither full angels nor full rogues,  this is key to McDonagh’s success.

They are hitmen who work for a violent East End gangster, but at the same time the pair are friends, polite and haunted by their pasts. McDonagh never resorts to trying to make them cool. The pair are not traditional gangsters in a black suit, dark shades vein. They take their contact lenses out at night, brush their teeth before bed and set the guidebook fuelled itinerary for the day ahead.

Simply, they are a couple of normal blokes plunged into an abnormal situation. Their struggles to come to terms with this is what makes In Bruges something to treasure. By the end we are left not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The only option is to rewatch it and try and make your mind up.

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