LIST CANDIDATE: THE BUTCHER BOY (1995)

DIRECTED BYNeil Jordan

FEATURING:  Eamonn Owens, Sean McGinley, Peter Gowen, Alan Boyle, Andrew Fullerton, Fiona Shaw, Aisling O’Sullivan, Stephen Rea, Sinéad O’Connor

PLOT: Against the backdrop of Cold War absurdity, a rebellious 1950’s Irish youth descends

Still from The Butcher Boy (1995)

into a psychotic maelstrom upon the deaths of his dysfunctional parents and abandonment by his best friend.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:   Based on the prize winning stream of consciousness novel by Pat McCabe, the movie flows like a grim fantasy regurgitated by a mescaline-intoxicated James Joyce.  The combination of genres and mild-mannered, cavalier narrative of perversity and violence make The Butcher Boy a weird and wonderful, if unsettling viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  High production values and slick editing distinguish this utterly bizarre story about a cheerfully deluded boy’s descent into madness, mayhem and murder. The lighthearted presentation of repellent material makes for a heavy cinematic encounter that timid viewers will find unpleasant and unsettling.

Francie (Owens) is a slightly delinquent youth. His father (Rea) is a talented, but unrecognized musician—and an anti-social, violent alcoholic. His bipolar mother does her best to distract herself from the family’s depressing existence via a zealous plethora domestic rituals.

Despite his oddball, dysfunctional family life, Francie manages to hang on until his mother commits suicide. The tragedy triggers a series of frantic misfortunes that lead to an insidious and inevitable structural decay of the framework that Francie desperately needs for a normal maturation.

Lacking valid coping options, Francie immerses himself in a comic book-fueled world of fantasy, accentuated by typical boyish adventures and games. But the games become increasingly grim when misfortune and his own recklessness lead him ever further astray.

Beguiled by hallucinatory visions, Francie is off first to a Catholic reform school where he stabs a pedophile priest, then to a lunatic asylum where the staff jolts him with shock treatments and a fellow patient warns him of impending trepanation-style lobotomy. Concluding that the damning chain of unalterable events is rooted in a neighbor’s hatred, Francie finally plunges over the dam of reality. Maddened and desperate, he cascades away on the headwaters of a psychotic mission to compel salvation and resolution via maniacal revenge.

The Butcher Boy is a viewing experience steeped in incongruity. The plot is cinematically presented as a comedy. It is anything but. Grim, twisted, and gritty, the sequence of events that unfold are nothing to laugh at. The storybook Irish countrysides of Warrenpoint and Monaghan accent this foreboding tale, and clash with starkly seedy Dublin locations. Discordant hallucination sequences disrupt the balance of reality. The resulting contrast between subject matter and tempo results in an arty, but disturbing film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though the movie sometimes looks as if the authentic Irish wit, colour and blarney has been filtered through the sensibility of a Buñuel or Polanski, Jordan never allows the surreal/expressionist aspects to dominate.”–Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide

The Butcher Boy trailer

3 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: THE BUTCHER BOY (1995)”

  1. this film is fantastic, I hope it makes the list. Left me feeling decidedly unnerved but also entertained (and subsequently even more unnerved because I was entertained by something so grim.)

  2. I agree with Cassie here…fantastic film, but yes grim, as much as Neil Jordan’s work is. I’ve recently become enamored with his children’s fable/horror hybrid film from 1984, The Company of Wolves. Outstanding…even with the inclusion of Angela Lansbury. Excellent review and great choice for a list candidate, but keep The Company of Wolves in mind also 366.

  3. “the plot is cinematically presented as a comedy. It is anything but. Grim, twisted, and gritty, the sequence of events that unfold are nothing to laugh at.”

    unless you live in Ireland! oddly it was received as a comedy over here and i remember a lot of laughing in the cinemas, which thinking back too is quite disturbing! it seems to come out of the black sense of humor we have here (a by product of numerous scandals with the church and of course our extended occupation by the English).

    Beautiful film, I really hope it makes the list!

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