Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Quiet Man (1952)

     Happy (early) St. Patrick’s Day, everybody! To celebrate in my own little way, let me introduce you to a filmmaker named John Ford. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. He’s a pioneer of filmmaking. If John Ford hadn’t made films like “Stagecoach”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, and “The Searchers” (one of my all-time favorites), there would be no Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, or Clint Eastwood. John Ford is pretty important. And one of the films that won him an Academy Award for Best Director was 1952’s “The Quiet Man”, a love story set in Ireland starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Ford was an Irish immigrant, so this was a very personal film for him. And to someone like me whose ancestors come from Ireland—and who also happens to share the same first name and height as Wayne’s character—this is a film that means a lot to my family as well.

     Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a man born and raised in Ireland who then immigrated to America and became a boxer. But the story starts out with Thornton returning to his homeland, to buy back the house he and his ancestors were born in. Once he returns, he meets up with an old friend (Barry Fitzgerald), meets and immediately falls in love with Mary Kate Danaher (O’Hara), and buys his house. However, Thornton runs into trouble with Will Danaher, Mary Kate’s brother. Danaher wanted the land that Thornton’s house was on, and once Thornton bought it, Danaher felt robbed. So when Sean and Mary Kate get married, Danaher refuses to pay Mary Kate’s dowry. To Sean, this isn’t a big deal—Mary Kate matters more to him than the money. But in Ireland, without her brother’s consent to pay the dowry, custom is that the two of them cannot be officially married. When the two of them get into an argument—on their wedding night—Mary Kate tells him:

MARY KATE: I’ll wear your ring. I’ll cook. And I’ll wash, and I’ll keep the land. But that is all! Until I’ve got my dowry safe about me, I’m no married woman. I’m the servant I’ve always been—without anything of my own!

     Maybe Sean doesn’t understand this Irish custom, but perhaps even if he did, he wouldn’t care about Mary Kate’s dowry. And after the two of them get into another argument about her fortune, Sean goes to see the local reverend Cyril Playfair (Arthur Shields) to tell him about his troubles. It turns out that during his boxing career, Thornton beat his opponent so badly that he killed him. Filled with guilt about it, Thornton has come back to Ireland to forget it and try to put it behind him. He tells Playfair:

THORNTON: [My opponent] was a good egg. Nice little wife and home, a couple of kids. Clean fighter. But I didn’t go in there to fight him. I went in there to beat his brains out. To drive him into the canvas—to murder him! And that’s what I did. For what? A purse? A piece of the gate? Lousy money.

PLAYFAIR: And now money’s behind your trouble with Danaher.

THORNTON: They think I’m afraid to fight him. All the friends I’ve made here, even my wife!

PLAYFAIR: But aren’t you, in a way?

THORNTON: Did you ever kill a man? Well, I have, and… all this talk about her big fortune, it’s not that important.

     Here, it’s subtly hinted at that Thornton was paid to kill his opponent, but when he did, the money became nothing to him. The Bible has a lot of passages that oppose the love of money. 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” This verse, for Catholic Sean Thornton, probably hits home hard. And once his opponent had been killed, Thornton was struck with that grief. Now he has no love of money, but this belief has been consequential for him: Mary Kate refuses to be his wife unless he is willing to get the dowry, even though it’s a matter of indifference to him.

     But near the end of the film, Sean and Mary Kate are sitting in front of their fireplace in their cottage. Mary Kate, implying in her conversation that Sean must have been out drinking, gets Sean to tell her that he was out talking with Reverend Playfair. Then Mary Kate confesses to him that she was out that afternoon talking to her priest. She shows as much concern for this issue as he does—and both of them sought out their pastors for advice. Perhaps John Ford (a Catholic director) is showing here the importance of faith and going to God (or, in this case, a pastor) for guidance. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you won’t let material things like money control your decisions, but that instead you would go to God for guidance, because only He can show you the right Way.

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