By Danny DeGennaro
For as long as people have existed, differences have inspired violence. The semantics of warfare and how it straddles the lines between terrorism and necessary revolution are gently probed in “The Journey.”
Set in 2006, “The Journey” chronicles the penultimate attempt to reconcile the cavernous rift The Troubles created in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) agree to meet in an attempt to end the bloodshed permanently. Paisley and McGuinness are sworn mortal enemies: Paisley is the founder of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, and McGuinness the former leader of the IRA. As the film puts it, the two “were forced by fate or circumstance to make an historic journey together.” Thus, the two set off on a drive to the Edinburgh airport.
Expression and understanding, or lack of understanding, are at the heart of the film. The lush, rolling backdrop underpins the tension between the two men and their attempts to come to grips with one another and themselves. McGuinness is initially the primary instigator and is most interested in striking up a deal that’ll manifest a peace between the two factions. Paisley is more unyielding, and steadfastly refuses any olive branches. Eventually, they begin to mine common ground. A chance encounter with a wounded deer introduces a newfound sense of humanity that neither man had considered about the other. They both riff on the way people from Northern Ireland add affirmatives to the end of sentences (“so they do”).
The film is resolutely neutral in its views of The Troubles—if all art is propaganda, then the primary agenda “The Journey” pushes is that of understanding. The film announces during the opening credits that the conversation “is imagined,” and it’s this precise poetic license within historical fact that allows the movie to venture into empathetic, surprising places. Spall and Meaney both turn in stunning performances that would become vaudevillian in the hands of lesser actors.
What the film is most interested in isn’t cause or justification, but reconciliation. Civil discourse has never been more vital to our collective well being as we enter into a post-Brexit world, where isolation and fear mongering are touted as patriotism and self regard. It’s an energizing and affirmative thing “The Journey” seeks to demonstrate. Change is inevitable. Progress is difficult. Our natural similarities far outstrip our constructed differences. Nothing can distill the awful machinations that make violence necessary, but “The Journey” can help us make sense of it.