an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, January 2006, ISSN 1552-5112




Interrogating Intermission

Paula Murphy


Winner of the 2003 Irish Film and Television Awards for best Irish film and best director, Intermission was one of the most successful Irish films of the last few years.  Damien O’Donnell, maker of the recent Irish film Inside Im Dancing, describes the importance of Intermission as follows:

What was great about something like John Crowley’s Intermission was to open people’s eyes to an Irish film by an Irish director about an Irish subject.  That, I think, has been the most important Irish film in recent years.  I think Intermission was as important a debut Irish film as My Left Foot was, but for different reasons.  Intermission was a film that I heard people talking about on buses. (MacCartaigh 2004, 16)

Although Intermission did enjoy some international success, aided in no small degree by its high profile cast that includes Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney and Cillian Murphy, Damien O’Donnell rightly assesses its significance as something more than that.  An unusual entity in Irish film, it is not obviously marketed for a British, European or American audience.  Perhaps because of this fact, the common motifs of Irish film like religion, rurality, inter-generational conflict and politics are almost non-existent.

Through Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and postmodernism, this article analyses Intermission as an example of how the enormous social, cultural and economic changes of the last two decades have resulted in a dramatic shift in how the Irish identity is constructed.  The Lacanian subject is a socially determined being, structured by the laws and language of the symbolic order.  He explicitly states that the symbolic order is not an overarching structure applicable to every individual.  On the contrary, since the symbolic is derived from social and familial contexts, there are differences between cultures, societies and individuals[1].  The Lacanian Other is a part of the symbolic order that can be represented by an other person in the imaginary sense, but which is ultimately derived from the order itself.  In this sense, the Other is how the symbolic is manifested for a particular individual.  As the Lacanian subject is in this way symbolically-determined, changes in the symbolic order effect change in the individual subject, and this I argue is a way of understanding changes in individual and national identity that have occurred in recent years.  Jean-François Lyotard makes a similar argument for the importance of language in determining behaviour, and consequently, as an object of study.  Echoing Lacan, he states, ‘even before he is born, if only by virtue of the name he is given, the human child is already positioned as the referent in the story recounted by those around him in relation to which he will inevitably chart his course’ (Lyotard 1984, 15).  A film like Intermission is valuable because it provides a barometer of that change.  If people were talking on buses about Intermission, it is because it is the first high-profile Irish film to accurately reflect the urban and suburban life of Dublin and its lower middle class and working class inhabitants, and also because it is one of the first films to show how much these strata of society have adapted to social change.  It is also a film that portrays Ireland as unarguably postmodern in the sense its grand narratives are deconstructed.

The ostensibly indigenous quality of this film is paradoxically contradicted by the film’s director, John Crowley, who states that ‘the script…was quite influenced by American models, and Ireland is sort of an axis between America and Europe, wanting to balance itself on the other side.  So I did clearly want my key collaborators, the cinematographer and my editor, to be European’ (Judell 2004).  What Crowley makes clear is that it is not necessary to work with professionals who are technically ‘Irish’ in order to make a film that reflects Ireland in the new millennium.  On the contrary, ensuring that there is a balance between an American-style script, European cinematography, and Irish actors and themes, makes the film more and not less reflective of contemporary Ireland.  Current Irish narrative, drama and film articulate a subjectivity that is created through the fusion of Ireland with Europe, America and beyond, as the conglomerative efforts that resulted in Intermission make clear. 

The production is not the only aspect of this film that is indicative of the transitional nature of Irish society.  The film consists of a number of different stories which are cleverly interwoven.  Almost all of the characters are at a pivotal juncture in their lives in relation to work and/or love.  As Richard Gorelick points out, ‘[t]he title…refers to the transitory state that most of the characters find themselves in.  Jobs have just been lost or are in grave peril, relationships are ending, have just ended, or are slowly beginning’ (Gorelick 2004).  The multiple perspectives of the story adhere to what Lyotard describes as a characteristic of postmodernism: that which ‘puts forward the unpresentable in the presentation itself’ (Lyotard 1984, 81).  Joyce does this through a plethora of literary styles of writing, which affirm the impossibility of a full and unified narration.  In Intermission, the same effect is achieved through the variety of perspectives.  While many Irish filmmakers rely on historical narratives for their subject matter[2], Crowley shows Ireland as it is now.  But, as the tagline of the film suggests, subjectivity, whether expressed in film or elsewhere, never reaches a point of stasis, but exists somewhere between future aspiration and past experience: ‘life is what happens in between’ (Crowley 2003).  In this sense, the film thematically represents Ireland as a whole, in a continuous and unstoppable process of change.


Identity Constructs

The film opens with Lehiff, the character played by Colin Farrell, entering a bakery and chatting up the young, attractive sales assistant behind the counter.  They flirtatiously discuss the unpredictability of love, and Lehiff states, ‘love is not somethin’ you can plan for, is it?’ (Crowley 2003).  This sense of chance and randomness characterizes the film as a whole and is indicative of the post-Catholic culture that is being depicted, in which many of the characters in the film engage in promiscuous sex with people they meet in bars and nightclubs.  Linked to a sense of liberation from a destiny controlled by the Church, is how freely characters adopt personas and identities.  Lehiff foregrounds this in the opening sequence, when he tells the sales assistant, ‘[a] fella like me could be just a bit of fun in the sack, or, or, and it’s not that crazy, I could be your soulmate.  Or…I could be just a thief or somethin’, some villain…just waitin’ for the chance to [he punches her] smack your jaw and rob the register’ (Crowley 2003).  The shock of this unexpected violence underscores how identity is always chosen to some extent, which means, as Lehiff states while he is making off with the cash from the till, ‘you just never know…what’s gonna happen’ (Crowley 2003).  Lacan claims that the individual participates in the creation of linguistic meaning, and consequently, in the structuration of subjectivity[3].  While this determining ability is a characteristic of subjectivity in general, it has been enhanced by the climate of personal sovereignty in which we now live in Ireland, where individuals are far less controlled by the symbolic law of religious morality than they were in previous decades.  Lehiff makes it clear that he has the ability to choose who he wants to be: he can be the person with whom she has a one night stand, he can be her long-term partner or he can be the thief who tricks her into trusting him.  Lacan suggests that the subject plays a role in symbolic change.  To do so, he/she must have an element of autonomy within the symbolic structures, which is precisely what Lehiff demonstrates in the opening scene.

            Lehiff is the pivotal character in the film, as it is through him that the lives of the other characters cross paths.  While he displays a degree of personal autonomy, it is evident later in the film that he is also programmed by the symbolic structures which surround him.  Lehiff, in his early twenties with a thick Dublin accent, shaven head, earring and tracksuit, epitomizes the urban rebel of contemporary Irish cities.  Because he dons the uniform that is rightly or wrongly associated with young law-breakers, Lehiff constantly draws the attention of authority figures onto himself.  When he enters the local pub in Springfield, the fictitious Dublin suburb where the film is set, he is spotted by Detective Jerry Lynch, the self-appointed antagonist of Dublin ‘scum’ (Crowley 2003).  Lynch follows Lehiff into the toilet, and seeing his black eye, asks who hit him.  Lehiff replies, ‘[y]e aul’ one, man; poked me in the eye with her cock’ (Crowley 2003).  Lynch becomes enraged, catches him by the throat and forces him to stand still while he urinates on him.  The scene illustrates how Lehiff is constructed by the society in which he lives: because the guards treat him with total disrespect, he positions himself as the heroic subverter of a regime that he regards as inherently corrupt. 

Lehiff’s only option is to fulfill the role he has been given by society to its ultimate potential.  For him, the desired objet petit a is a position of status in society, which he only attains through its loss in his total disregard for the law, cutting himself off from the community entirely, but paradoxically, earning a degree of autonomy.   Lacan coined the phrase le pére ou pire to describe this forced choice, which means the father or worse: the choice is not one between good and bad, but between bad and worse.  Lehiff cannot escape symbolic construction and so his choice is not a choice at all.  Lehiff can either choose to submit to the Name of the Father and repress his desire, or chase his desire, his objet petit a, and position himself outside of the community.  From a Lacanian point of view, the song that plays over the opening credits, The Clash’s ‘I Fought the Law and the Law Won’ is highly appropriate: the subject has always already chosen to submit to the law because there is no other alternative. 

Lehiff’s desire is primarily for respect and status in society, because this is what has been denied to him.   He gains this respect from a certain portion of the community through criminal acts, but still wishes for precisely what his own choice has rendered impossible: a stable domestic base.  At several points in the film, Lehiff’s fascination with woks is alluded to, which serves as a shorthand for domesticity.  Interestingly though, in keeping with the exogenous representation of Irishness in the film as a whole, it is a cosmopolitan domesticity influenced by the Orient.  He mentions it to the sales assistant in the opening scene, later he is seen circling woks in a catalogue while staking out a bank, and at the end of the film, he questions the girl who he is holding to ransom in her home about the utility of her wok and the best kind of oil to use.  Lehiff epitomises the teleological illusion.  The subject has always already been structured by the symbolic, which demands that they accede to an intersubjective position in the first place.  As Žižek states, ‘Lacan’s exposition of the way a letter arrives at its destination lays bare the very mechanism of the teleological illusion’ (Žižek 2001a, 9-10).  The destination of the letter is ultimately the Other.  Because of this, imagining that a subject has control over their fate is ultimately false, since they can only think this because of their place in the symbolic.  Lehiff believes that he chooses to break the law, but has already been decided by his symbolic position.  His desire for a home life is also a symptom of his position within the structures of desire, which is always directed towards an unattainable object.  Through his portrait of Lehiff, Crowley shows the underside of the Celtic Tiger economy and the gap between rich and poor that prevails in spite of economic prosperity.



Two other characters who are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder are John and Oscar, both of whom work on the shop floor of the local supermarket.  Their overbearing boss, Mr. Henderson, makes their lives almost unbearable by his constant bullying.  John has recently broken up with his girlfriend Deirdre, and is heartbroken.  On discovering that Deirdre has moved in with an older man only a few short weeks after their split, he barges into her house at the end of his tether: ‘[y]ou don’t just hook up with the next fella that walks by – the only reason you do that is if you never cared in the first place…that is the behaviour of a whore!’ (Crowley 2003).  John has no idea how to discuss his emotions without becoming at best defensive, or at worst, aggressive. 

A possible reason for John’s behaviour is the shift in gender roles in contemporary Irish society, and the difficulty he experiences adjusting to them.  While there is still inequality between the genders, the divide is certainly lessening.  The number of women in the workplace has more than doubled in the two decades between 1976 and 1996[4], and although this is only one aspect of moving towards equality, it does indicate a significant social and psychological change.  If, as Lacan maintains, subjectivity is constructed in the intersubjective space between self and other, then it is logical that if female subjectivity has changed radically, then so has male.  Previously, men were expected to be emotionally strong, perhaps in order to fulfill their primary role as providers.  Now, the list of desirable characteristics for heterosexual men has changed considerably, with a concurrent shift in stereotypes of masculinity in the media.  From a male point of view, this means that men now take more responsibility as carers of children and are also expected to be comfortable articulating their emotions: a trait previously regarded as feminine.  John is an example of an individual who has not completely adjusted to this change, and who is suffering the consequences.  His friend Oscar is going through romantic difficulties also.  Unable to find a girlfriend, his sexual frustration has become such that he confides in John in the pub that he is unable to orgasm: ‘I’m at a stage where I can’t even wank, d’ya know?  Pullin’ away like a madman…couple of occasions, I wept like a woman man, with the fuckin’ frustration’ (Crowley 2003).  His equation of crying with femininity, and his horror of crying in public (later in the film the audience see him reduced to tears after failing to orgasm watching a porn video, alone in his flat) makes evident the fact that social and symbolic change does not happen in one movement that sweeps every subject into its wake: change will always encounter resistance.

 This paradox is evident from the point of view of the women in the film also.  To some extent, their self-worth is still predicated on their romantic relationships with men.  Noeleen, a woman in her forties whose husband leaves her after fourteen years provides a good example.  She is distraught at his departure and feels that it is somehow her fault for not being a good enough wife: ‘[i]s it my age, huh?  Is it something I wouldn’t do?  Is it my look, huh? Don’t you fancy me anymore?’ (Crowley 2003).  Her husband Sam leaves her for a woman in her twenties, Deirdre, the erstwhile object of John’s affections.  Deirdre too espouses a traditional ideal of a man’s role as provider when she tells her mother that they are moving in together, defending her decision on the basis that he is well off, reasonably attractive and has a high status job as bank manager.  However, at the end of the film both women reconsider these traditional positions.  Noeleen rediscovers her sexual attractiveness and reasserts herself in a fling with the frustrated Oscar.  Deirdre too decides that compatibility is more important than money at the end of the film and leaves Sam, who finds her decision incomprehensible in another instance of male resistance to change in gender roles: ‘I pay rent here.  I pay your rent as well as my own.  I give you money; I treat you well.  Is that not enough?’ (Crowley 2003).  It is not enough for Deirdre, who rekindles her relationship with John, after he realises that all he needed to do was tell Deirdre how he was feeling. 

The transitory status of male and female inter-subjective relations is enacted in the film and it is obvious that while stereotyped gender roles still have a certain currency, this is beginning to change.  It is obvious too that neither men nor women are conditioned by religious sexual morality.  The film shows scenes of adultery between Sam and Deirdre and casual sex between Noeleen and Oscar.  It is significant that while difficulties exist in negotiating the complex territory of heterosexual relationships, there is no indication that religion has any influence on sexual choices.  The absence of religion is also evident in the characterization of authority figures in the film.


The Ideology of Authority

In every symbolic order and every society, the power bestowed on figures of authority derives from a shared agreement on the value of the ideology that they represent.  For example, the former Taoiseach[5] of Ireland, Eamon De Valera frequently used religious imagery in his speeches and often invoked familial metaphors, because in the symbolic order in which he lived, these were things which were assumed by the population to be unquestionably worthy of respect.  These are master signifiers, which Bracher describes as ‘simply accepted as having a value or validity that goes without saying’ (Bracher 1993, 25).  It would be logical to conclude that an examination of the ideology of the authority figures in this film, Henderson, the supermarket manager and Detective Jerry Lynch, might be enlightening as to what has replaced the master signifiers of the old Irish symbolic order.  Henderson, or ‘Henno’ as John and Oscar call him, asserts his authority at every available opportunity.  He catches the two men taking a break soon after starting work, and tells them to ‘get back on that floor, youse little pups’ (Crowley 2003).  He gives each of them a strike, three of which will result in dismissal.  This strike is John’s second and Henderson threatens: ‘one more and a certain ass will be kicked.  I shit you not, as they say in the States’ (Crowley 2003). 

Henderson tries to claim that he has adopted his style of management from an American model, possibly one disseminated through television.  Later, he orders John to clean up some salsa that has spilt in one of the aisles.  John warns him that the smell of salsa makes him nauseous, but Henderson ignores his protests.  Resignedly, John attempts to clean up the mess and promptly vomits.  Henderson calls him into the storeroom and intimidates him: ‘one more incident like this and I will TCB, as they say in the States: I will take care of business’ (Crowley 2003).  A parody of authority, Henderson is significant for two reasons.  His relationship with John and Oscar shows the reality of life on the minimum wage in Celtic Tiger Ireland, and the frustration of working in jobs without satisfaction, respect, or even appreciation.  This is a strand of Irish society which is rarely explored in Irish literature or film in a contemporary context, with the notable exceptions of Roddy Doyle, Billy Roche and Dermot Bolger. 

If, as I have argued, factors like class affect the Other of particular individuals, then it is probable that there may be discrepancies between these different strands of society in relation to the rate of change.  One of the bleakest messages of Intermission is that social, economic and cultural change has been slow to impact on the working classes.  Lance Pettitt has noted that contemporary Irish film often focuses on these marginalised groups, describing it as a ‘cinema of the have-nots and the left-outs, the criminals, loser and misfits’ (Pettitt 2000, 268).  Furthermore, Henderson is an exemplar of one of the major themes in this film: the assertion of power to make up for inadequacy, which reveals itself in the relationships between Noeleen and Oscar, Detective Lynch and Lehiff, and Ben and his boss, who are discussed in the following section, and Henderson and John.  The final scene of the film shows Henderson driving in his car, talking to himself: ‘I am the boss.  I have authority.  You are the minion.  You are beneath.  I have the power.  What do I have? I didn’t get that, speak up!  That’s right, that’s absolutely – what the fuck?’ (Crowley 2003).  Henderson’s speech is broken the shattering of his windscreen, by a rock thrown by a small boy on a bicycle, summing up succinctly that while there are authority figures who abuse their power, there will be those who attempt to rebel against the consequent position of themselves within the intersubjective space, like Lehiff, the boy on the bicycle and also John, who finally stands up to Henno, hitting him on the head with a tin of processed peas before handing in his resignation.


De-mystifying Myths

The authority figure who is explored in the greatest detail in the film is Detective Jerry Lynch, played by Colm Meaney.  He is approached by a young television producer, Ben, who wants to make a documentary film about his work, an offer that Lynch greets with unveiled arrogance.  Lynch revels in his image as a tough detective who is unafraid of physical violence.  He tells Ben that ‘my only really human quality to speak of is a fondness for Celtic mysticism’ (Crowley 2003) and goes on to name Fáinne Lasta, Rainneach and Clannad as ‘artistes’ whom he admires.  Lynch’s admission is striking because it is so incongruous with his image, but also because it is soon apparent that these bands are just a symbol of an entire ideology in which Lynch has invested.  The music has a vague association with pre-Catholic Ireland, the heroes of Irish folk tales like Cuchullain and the Fianna, and most importantly the tribal laws of vengeance and retribution that they represent.  He tells Ben that, ‘the kind of justice I’m questing requires a certain attitude that people might find extreme or unpleasant.  Might not be suitable, you know?’ (Crowley 2003). 

The heroes that he identifies with are those of Irish folk tales, represented for him by the music of Celtic mysticism.  Such identifications are revealed as an effort to fill the void in being, or manque à être, that characterises subjectivity.  It is no surprise that in contemporary Ireland, where the traditional signifiers of identity like religion, gender and political affiliation have been destabilized, this manque à être is more apparent than ever before.  Enforcing the law in a legal manner contradicts Lynch’s sense of manhood, presenting yet another male character struggling with the change in gender roles, since it is an inevitably frustrating experience, and one in which physical violence has little currency.  By identifying with ancient Irish heroes, Lynch can affirm his Ideal-I of masculinity and interpret his own violence as bravery.  He tells Ben that when he was a young boy, his father was his boxing trainer.  He taught him to ‘hate your opponent – hate him, and you’ll never give less than a hundred per cent.  That’s a philosophy I still follow; that’s why I’m such an animal, man’ (Crowley 2003).

Lynch’s machismo is constantly threatened by the lack of respect his superiors give him.  He is seen in his car staking out a drug dealer on a street corner with Celtic music playing to get him in the mood for the ensuing arrest.  He pulls up in front of the dealer with a dramatic shriek of brakes and proceeds to chase him on foot through a block of flats.  Lynch eventually catches him and as he suspects, finds drugs on his person and arrests him, but when he returns with the handcuffed dealer, he finds his car has been stolen and is enraged when the dealer sniggers at his predicament.  Feeling rather demeaned, Lynch handcuffs the dealer to a pole and rings the station from a public phone, but is informed that there are no available cars to collect him and he is humiliatingly forced to order a taxi.  When Ben calls to tell him that his boss has rejected his film idea, Lynch is at a low ebb indeed, and asks, ‘[h]as nobody any balls these days? Faggot’ (Crowley 2003).  Having bragged to his work colleagues about his forthcoming television appearance, the potential embarrassment is likely to be enormous.  Lynch retorts in the only way he know how, which is to brand Ben’s boss a homosexual, which allows him to remain in his position as macho maverick hero.  Later, Jerry accompanies two of his colleagues to view a burnt-out car that has been abandoned on some waste land, and discovers that it is his own.  When the two men mockingly ask, ‘are you gonna put this in your film, Jerry?’ (Crowley 2003), Lynch decides that in order to save face, he must convince Ben to join him in rebellion and make the film without his boss’ consent.

Ben agrees and shadows Lynch on his daily rounds.  Lynch introduces him to drug users, drug dealers and criminals under surveillance, all of whom he treats with the same contempt.  Entering the flat of one man, Wayne, suspected of drug dealing and a drive-by shooting, Lynch provokes him until Wayne punches him.  They engage in a fist fight which Ben films, and Lynch tells him: ‘it’s the only thing they understand, man’ (Crowley 2003).  Shortly afterwards, Lynch spots Lehiff, who stole and burnt out his car.  With his Celtic music playing at full volume, he chases him in a high-speed pursuit, with Ben in the passenger seat, filming the action.  Lehiff takes a road out of Dublin, hoping to lose him, but does not succeed and he gleefully tells Ben, ‘he’s goin’ to the country.  You’re out of your element now, pal!’ (Crowley 2003).  If Lynch thinks that the country is foreign territory for Lehiff, then to him it is almost a spiritual home.  The myths in which Lynch has invested all take place in rural locations, and the music of Celtic mysticism to which he listens similarly connotes an ancient past where people were in tune with nature.  For Lynch, the countryside has a mystical quality which could not be more appropriate for what he sees as his valiant deeds.  During the high-speed chase, Lehiff swerves to avoid a tractor and crashes through a fence into a field, almost killing a sheep which flies through the air and lands on his bonnet. 

All three men get out of their cars and through Ben’s camera, the audience see the ‘mythic’ shot of Lynch.  This has been foregrounded earlier in the film, when Ben oversees the filming of an interview with two local heroes and insists that the cameraman perform a mythic shot, which is a shot from the ground that points upward at the person, making them look taller, more powerful and more heroic, so when it happens again at this stage of the film, it is an index of how Lynch sees himself.  Lynch confronts Lehiff about stealing his car and worse still, his music, but the latter retorts by saying that Lynch’s Celtic mysticism CDs are ‘shit sounds’ (Crowley 2003).  An argument explodes as the two exchange insults:


Lynch:             The power of certain artistes is beyond the ken of cunts like you.  You don’t have the requisite Celtic soul, man.

Lehiff:              Yes I do.

Lynch:             That’s a brave fuckin’ statement.  Would you like a chance to back that up, wha’? (Crowley 2002)



Lynch takes off his jacket, places his gun on the bonnet and challenges Lehiff to a fist fight, saying that if he wins, Lynch will let him go, adhering to the code of heroic honour and fairness that he believes himself to be an exponent of, and telling Ben that this episode will be called ‘Personal Justice’ (Crowley 2002).

            As soon as Lynch is far enough away from the car on which his gun rests, Lehiff takes a gun out of his pocket, points it and shoots and the last shots of the scene, from the perspective of Ben’s handheld camera, show the camera falling onto the grass.  The duel between Lehiff and Lynch connects Ireland to America by operating outside of official law, a state of affairs traditionally associated with the Wild West.  This is strengthened by the stand-off between Lynch and Lehiff, which is redolent of the traditional duel scene depicted in many Westerns. In this way, the similarities between the American west and Lynch’s Celtic mysticism are made evident.  However, in Intermission, both ideologies are parodied in order to expose their inadequacy in 21st century Ireland.  

Both are ideologies which subjects cling to in order to fill the vacuum of being that is the result of their entry into language, but they simply do not work in contemporary society, as Lehiff shows when he pulls out his gun, after agreeing to a fist fight.  Lynch may be operating in accordance with a Celtic code of honour, but others are not and it proves impossible to transpose an ancient set of values onto a modern society.  Moreover, the heroic ideal that Lynch invests in is as elitist and hierarchical as the modern class structure, which becomes obvious when he accuses Lehiff of not having the requisite Celtic soul to appreciate his music.  The knowledge that Lynch thinks he as possesses about Celtic Ireland is in the postmodern sense ‘delegitimated’.  As Lyotard states, ‘[t]he grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation’ (Lyotard 1984, 37).  Finally, these scenes also serve to defeat the urban/rural divide that has been at the heart of Irish literature for decades.  Rural Ireland is not portrayed as a vestige of tranquility.  On the contrary, in this scene in Intermission it is the sight of cold-blooded violence.  These parts of Ireland have not been exempt from crime of course, but the prevailing imaginary version of the Irish countryside is upheld by earlier literature and film, and is seldom de-idealized in such a graphic manner. 

Although these insights are revealed to the audience, Lynch continues to identify with the Celtic warrior as a way to cover over his lack, and is delighted when the media report the incident with him as the conquering hero.  At the end of the film, he walks in on Ben who is looking back over the video, and the audience realises that Ben saved Lynch’s life by shooting Lehiff.  ‘The way it was told is the way it has to be’ (Cowley 2003), he tells Ben, giving him his Fáinne Lasta CDs as token of his respect and admiration.  Their parting words are so choreographed and clichéd that the effect is comical:


Lynch:             You’ve earned ’em – a warrior soul Ben, a kindred soul [they hug].  We’ll meet again, no doubt.

Ben:                On the streets, yeah?

Lynch:             On the streets.


            Intermission examines numerous aspects of the contemporary Irish subject.  Its focus is on urban identity with particular emphasis on the lower classes.  Its shows that in spite of economic prosperity, there are many Irish people who have a poor quality of life, few prospects for the future and who live in areas with little if any amenities.  It also depicts in a bleak but humorous way, the realities of drugs, crime and violence on Ireland’s streets.  Its investigations into gendered subjectivity reveal that although much has changed and men and women are moving away from their traditionally subscribed roles, the transition is difficult and painful for many.  With the story of Lynch and Lehiff, psychical justifications for violence are unveiled, and the film shows how, as much as ever before, violence is predicated on nationalist ideals, in this case Celtic mysticism.  It may not have a political motivation, but it still functions to provoke and tragically, to exclude.  It is clear from Intermission that the shifting symbolic of Irish society is not a mass movement along one trajectory, but operates through the combination of old and new; modernity and mysticism; rural and urban, indigenous and global; symbolic and imaginary realities and the tensions and power struggles between them.



Bracher, Mark, 1993. Lacan, Discourse and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism. New York: Cornell University Press.


Clash, The, 1979. ‘I Fought the Law and the Law Won’, The Clash. Epic.


Judell, Brandon, 2004. ‘Ireland’s Son of Altman: John Crowley takes no Shortcuts with Intermission’, in Indiewire.



Gorelick, Richard, 2004. ‘Irish Kiss’ in City Paper Online.



Intermission, 2004. Dir. John Crowley. Perf. Colin Farrell, Shirley Henderson, Kelly McDonald, Colm Meaney and Cillian Murphy. Buena Vista.


Lacan, Jacques, 1987. The Seminar. Book 1. Freud’s Papers on Technique, 1953-4. Translated by John Forrester, with notes by John Forrester. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Lacan, Jacques, 1989. Écrits: A Selection. Translated by Alan Sheridan. London: Routledge.


Lyotard, Jean-François, 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 10).  Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


O’ Connell, Michael, 2001. Changed Utterly: Ireland and the New Irish Psyche. Dublin: The Liffey Press.


Žižek, Slavoj, 2001a. Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (Revised edition). New York: Routledge.


MacCartaigh, Lir, 2004. ‘One Flew Over My Left Foot’ in Film Ireland, October 2004, Issue 100, pp. 14-16.


Pettitt, Lance, 2000. Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, January 2006, ISSN 1552-5112




[1] Lacan states that ‘for every human being, everything personal which can happen to him is located in the relation to the law to which he is bound.  His history is unified by the law, by his symbolic universe, which is not the same for everyone’ (S1, 197, my italics)


[2] A list of such films with Irish themes from the last few years includes Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes (1999), Peter Sheridan’s Borstal Boy (2000), Jim Sheridan’s In America (2002), Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters (2002), Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York (2002) and Aisling Walsh’s Song for a Raggy Boy (2003).


[3] As illustrated in the graph of desire (E, 335) meaning is produced après coup by the subject through the retroactive nature of punctuation (the second point of intersection) in the subject’s enunciation.  However, the subject is also produced by signification, as the meaning of the signifier at the first point of signification is a differential meaning, not an inherent meaning.  This means that the subject must choose from a selection of signifiers that are available to him/her, which themselves shape and define the signified.  Collectively, these signifieds construct the world that the subject inhabits, and so construct subjectivity itself.  For Lacan, there is an unending flux between the subject and signification.


[4] In 1976 there were 212,000 women in the workplace and in 1997, the figure had reached 488,000 (O’ Connell 2001, 149).


[5] In Ireland, the Taoiseach is the equivalent to the American president.