Reel Life: The Wind that Shakes the Barley & What We are Fighting For


Release Date: 2006

Cast: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham

IMDB Synopsis: Ireland 1920: workers from field and country unite to form volunteer guerrilla armies to face the ruthless “Black and Tan” squads that are being shipped from Britain to block Ireland’s bid for independence. Driven by a deep sense of duty and a love for his country, Damien abandons his burgeoning career as a doctor and joins his brother, Teddy, in a dangerous and violent fight for freedom. As the freedom fighters bold tactics bring the British to breaking point, both sides finally agree to a treaty to end the bloodshed. But, despite the apparent victory, civil war erupts and families, who fought side by side, find themselves pitted against one another as sworn enemies, putting their loyalties to the ultimate test.

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This is one of the most moving films that I have seen in a long time. It took me two days to watch it, and it is definitely not the easiest movie in the world to get through due to the violence, heavy accents, and use of Gaelic. But, long after it was over, it played through my mind, and I felt the need to watch several of the pivotal scenes one more time. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is about a time in Irish history (the 1920’s), when the Irish rose up against the oppressive legislation and actions of the British government, and it also chronicles the Civil War which ensued among the Irish after the British troops pulled out.

Despite this film’s specific placement in history, I found it to be at its core a story about family, loyalty, love, freedom, and the age-old question: What are we fighting for?

Near the end of the movie, Damien O’Donovan says it plainly when he points out, “It’s easy to know what you are against, quite an honor to know what you are for.” Truthfully, the question of what they are fighting for is the very one that tears the O’Donovan brothers apart. They are united in what they are against: the cruelty of “Black and Tan” squads of British soldiers, the oppression of Irish culture (including the use of Gaelic and the playing of Irish sports), and the British legislation which strips the Irish of their right to self-government. Damien and Teddy work together to combat these evils as members of a local branch of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). They purchase weapons, arm their neighbors, protect their comrades, and commit acts of violence all in the name of freedom. However, when a truce is called and leaders sit down to discuss peace, ideologies begin to collide among the men who once fought alongside one another.

For Teddy, the peace treaty (which granted Ireland status as a dominion of the British Empire but kept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom) is a step in the right direction. It is not the complete freedom they had hoped for, but at least they are moving that way. For Damien, it is an affront to the sacrifice of so many, and he knows that the poor of Ireland will still continue to suffer. He believes that they have complete freedom within their grasp, if only they will keep fighting. But, once the treaty is accepted, the brothers realize that the Irish will now be fighting one another.

Who had right on their side? I don’t really feel qualified to say, but I think we all can understand the power of our convictions and the lengths they will drive us to.

It is so easy to fight against something, to feel anger rise within us at the injustices of this world. We want to rebel and be revolutionary in those moments. However, like Damien, I too believe that the lasting impact is made when we fight, not against something, but FOR something.

So, I leave you with this question: What are you fighting for?

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