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‘In Bruges’ and Remorse

In Bruges
By  · Published on August 14th, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series. For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today. This entry focuses on In Bruges.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t buy us a one-way ticket to Bruges, Belgium.

Part 6 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Remorse” with In Bruges.

The Synopsis

Two hit-men, an experienced one named Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and an amateur named Ray (Colin Farrell), are shipped off to a small tourist town in Belgium after a job goes terribly messy and wrong in London. They clash and bond in equal measure while taking in the sights, and life goes on even as time seems to stand still. Their mobster boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), calls with instructions on how to fix the situation, and the two newly minted friends find their vacation coming to a violent and ill-fated end. With midgets.

The Situation

“Remorse” – The situation requires three elements including a Wrongdoer, a Wrongdoing, and an Interrogator/Other who helps the person acknowledge their sin and deal with their feelings of remorse. This isn’t a matter of mystery or suspense as the incident and the one responsible can be well-known from the beginning. What’s important is the sinner taking ownership of their guilt, accepting it, and then making an effort to deal with it in some way.

Ray is the one responsible for the initial cock-up that gets the duo exiled to Bruges. It’s his mistake that results in the death of a child, but he’s unable to communicate or understand his emotions about it all at first. His guilt and confusion form into suicidal thoughts, and it’s only through conversation with Ken that he begins to come to grips with what he did and what he can still do to help make amends.

The Movie

Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s debut feature is a blackly comic look at guilt, redemption, and the principles of hitmen. It’s also a sharply written character piece that moves deftly from laugh-out-loud dialogue to scenes with serious emotional weight. Plus gunfights. And a sexy Belgian girl. And of course, a midget.

The acting in the film is fantastic across the board with some typically excellent work from Gleeson and Fiennes. But it’s Farrell who surprises with a performance that manages to move back and forth between exquisite comedic sensibilities and a heartbreaking defeat. It’s the hilarious bits that stand out though. Ray’s defense of his disinterest in Bruges is funny on the page, but Ferrell’s accented and furrowed delivery magnifies the laughs. “I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

Ray’s journey throughout the film includes an example of “Remorse” but it’s not the only one the film has to offer. Ken is also a wrongdoer, and his acts of violence have gone on for decades without concern because he’s never allowed himself to think about it. His talks with Ray result in a guilty conscience that manifests as an attempt to give Ray the fresh start that’s no longer possible for himself. It’s an amends for Ray’s misdeeds as well as his own. But the movie still isn’t done with the concept! “You can’t kill a kid and expect to get away with it,” Harry says to Ken referring to Ray’s earlier mistake and the judgment he’s pronounced for him. These words come back to haunt him in the end as he’s forced to deal with his own principled remorse. Albeit, very briefly…

Bonus Examples: Seven Pounds, Atonement

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.