What was the audience's reaction to the movie The Crying Game?
November 5, 2005 3:19 AM   Subscribe

What was the audience's reaction to the movie The Crying Game? (spoilers inside)

Since I was all of eleven when the movie came out, the "she's a man, baby" thing flew over my head, but it still became part of my pop culture knowledge. Watching the movie today, I can't help but wonder how my reaction would have been different if I didn't already know the plot twist. (Strangely enough, I watched Stargate:SG1 recently, and I thought Jaye Davidson's character was played by an androgynous female, not an androgynous male.) So how did people react, how was the movie marketed, what was the general attitude when this movie came out?
posted by lychee to Media & Arts (45 answers total)
"I thought Jaye Davidson's character was played by an androgynous female, not an androgynous male."

just to make things clear to me, does this mean you thought Jaye Davidson was an androgynous female? the wording is confusing.
posted by a. at 3:45 AM on November 5, 2005

The ending was hyped as a surprise by the studio and everyone who saw it was asked not to divulge it, if memory serves me.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 4:01 AM on November 5, 2005

Only two films have given me that "kick in the guts" feeling. One was The Crying Game, and the other was Oenmvy (rot13 cyphered). I saw The Crying Game when it came out on video rather than in the cinema, but I would imagine my reaction was fairly typical.
posted by Leon at 4:45 AM on November 5, 2005

A spoiler warning would probably have been in order.
posted by Malor at 4:49 AM on November 5, 2005

when i went to see it, i had already knew the surprise penis that was going to flop out of a dress. my date (a lesbian like me) did not know about it, and so when that scene hit the screen she ran out of the theatre wretching. she was offended because a. it was a penis on screen, and b. because she thought jaye was female.

made the movie worth it for me.
posted by missed at 5:10 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it in the theater shortly after it came out, only vaguely knowing that there was supposed to be a big surprise. I don't recall it having a big effect on the audience, and if I recall correctly it's not in the end such an important part of the movie.
posted by escabeche at 5:27 AM on November 5, 2005

I went to see it with my mother and sister, and none of us knew the plot in advance. It's a long time ago now, but I remember a big gasp throughout the cinema. The whole audience seemed to have the same uncomfortable gut feeling as I did for the rest of the film, twisting in their seats a bit more than before.
posted by springload at 5:41 AM on November 5, 2005

15 years is well past the spoiler expiration date.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:49 AM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you lived in a blue state (though the term didn't exist as such then), you weren't shocked, just surprised; and the movie wasn't that good compared to the hype, so it left me flacid... I mean flat. "Sixth Sense" was much better.

Is it ok to spoil movies now that Malor has been (self-)warned? Soylent green is people! It's not an Ape planet, it's earth! And he's got Alzheimer's when Moore is interviewing him!!
posted by about_time at 5:55 AM on November 5, 2005

If you lived in a blue state (though the term didn't exist as such then), you weren't shocked, just surprised; and the movie wasn't that good compared to the hype... "Sixth Sense" was much better.

I disagree with every element of this. My wife and I saw it in New York City (as blue as it gets) when it was first released, with no idea there was supposed to be a surprise (we were walking down Broadway near Lincoln Center and on the spur of the moment decided to see a movie—"This looks good, let's try it"), and like springload said, there was a gasp and a certain amount of murmuring. It was definitely a shock (note: shock does not = 'bad'), and we were glad we had had no foreknowledge (unfortunately, we spoiled it for at least one person afterwards by emphasizing so strongly how shocked they were going to be that they figured out the surprise). And it was a much better movie than Sixth Sense, which is completely built around the surprise; in Crying Game, it's just another spice in the stew.

(To forestall one objection, by "spoiled" I don't mean ruined the movie, which the person loved, just ruined the surprise aspect. Like I said, the movie doesn't depend on the surprise. All the acting was superb.)
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2005

A Thai friend told me that in her country, where transvestitism is much more common than in the West, audiences recognized immediately that Jaye was a man in a dress, assumed that Stephen Rea also knew the score, and were surprised by Stephen's reaction when the bishop was finally introduced.
posted by soiled cowboy at 6:08 AM on November 5, 2005

Oh and Darth is Luke's father!
posted by glenwood at 6:14 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it when it first came out, when I was on vacation, and had no idea there was supposed to be any twists. The whole audience gasped, except for my friend and her date, who had apparently figured out that Jaye was a man by the size of his hands.

When I got back home, none of my friends had ever heard of it, and when I described the general plot and asked them if they minded if I revealed something that would spoil the movie, they all said no. So I did. A few weeks later, when the movie was suddenly a HUGE deal, they all started resenting me. And some still hold it against me to this day.
posted by amarynth at 6:16 AM on November 5, 2005

Er, spoiler spoiler spoiler.

There's a scene early on where Jaye Davidson's character is singing, and there are repeated shots of his mannish hands. So my friend and I were trying to puzzle it out from that point on. To us, it's almost like they wanted the audience to at least *wonder* if this was a man. We went into the movie before all the hype, because the movie we went to the theater to see (Peter's Friends) was deemed so awful by strangers that they had to warn us away from it when they say us standing in front of the poster.

Without the hype, the movie was good. The audience overall was surprised, but the audience(s) that I saw the Sixth Sense with seemed muuuuch more surprised by that twist.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:24 AM on November 5, 2005

Oh and Darth is Luke's father!

Funny you should mention that, I'm starting a long delayed project of seeing the Star Wars movies this weekend for the very first time (any of them). But I'd kind of heard about that twist.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2005

I didn't see the movie when it came out, but I remember being told that it "ended" with the surprise genderbender thing, much like the surprise ending of, say, The Sixth Sense. So when I finally saw it a few years ago what surprised me is that that's not the end of the movie at all; it happens very early on. In fact, the movie's not really "about" the gender thing so much as it is about Stephen Rea's character and terrorism in Ireland. There's lots of plot left after the infamous scene.
posted by JanetLand at 6:55 AM on November 5, 2005

posted by grumblebee at 7:07 AM on November 5, 2005

Friend of mine (hetero male) saw it at 15, ran into the bathroom to vomit after the big reveal. Heh.
posted by availablelight at 7:23 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it in Vancouver when it "came out" and several people got up and walked out of the theater during the "big scene". I recall being surprised by the twist, but not so mortally offended that I needed to leave.
posted by GuyZero at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2005

Exactly what languagehat said. Fortunately we saw it before the hype kicked in.

posted by intermod at 7:50 AM on November 5, 2005

I didn't know the twist. My reaction was: "Huh. Heh."
posted by agropyron at 8:13 AM on November 5, 2005

The marketing campaign for The Crying Game was one of the first things I worked on at Miramax. It was my first job out of college, and I was a lowly assistant. I remember being disappointed that we were choosing to market around the "don't tell the secret" thing, when I thought the film was so much more than that, such a more nuanced look at the questions of identity and what it means to hide in plain sight - nationality, race, gender, political affiliation, etc.

Clearly if I'd been designing the campaign, about 12 people would have gone to see the movie. Instead, it broke all records for the highest grossing independent film in the US to date. (Remember that in the early 90s, Miramax was in fact independent, and pretty much the only independent distributor at the time). This was also one of the first instances where journalists and critics were asked at screenings not to reveal the twist - this later became sort of standard practice for any "twisty" movie, and started to annoy critics, but it worked well.

The other important factor is that at the time, film distribution patterns were very different from what they are today. Films were released primarily in New York and LA, and then rolled out very slowly across the country - though there are a few films that work like this today, most films - even independents - roll out nationwide on a single date and if they don't do well, they're gone. With The Crying Game, it was released very slowly and allowed to grow via word of mouth - it opened in only 6 theaters and grossed about $100k opening weekend, which is certainly decent per screen, but not amazing. The film took off when people recommended it to their friends over time, and when they went back to see it a second time - there was a really high percentage of repeat viewings for a first-run independent film.

Discussing it makes me want to go back and watch it again!
posted by judith at 8:22 AM on November 5, 2005

I went alone, but had heard the hype about "the suprise." It was early in the day and I doubt six people were in the theatre. When you see Jaye at the bar I thought "guy." At the end of the movie I was suprised to learn Jaye having a penis was the big shock. I had spent the whole film with various shock ideas popping in my head...."Rea is a woman," "Jaye is an agent," "Forrest is alive." I really wanted the last one.
posted by ?! at 8:45 AM on November 5, 2005

I remember watching it for the second time, with a male friend of mine, on video at home. I obviously already knew the 'twist' but he had no idea and commented at various times through the film about how attractive Jaye's character was. He totally freaked when the reveal happened, hilarious to see :)
However, the fact that Jaye Davidon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at several award ceremonies did kinda spoil it somewhat
posted by mr_benn at 8:51 AM on November 5, 2005

I remember being sort of surprised at the intense reactions displayed by the film critics. None that I recall 'spoiled' the reveal, but after puzzling over what could possibly create the intense displays of breastbeating in this group of middle-aged male employees of large newspapers, I came to the conclusion that the heroine had to be a guy.

I wonder if a similar gotcha, where a filmmaker works hard to direct the male viewer toward lust for another male but disguises the biological gender of the object of lust, would create the same intense discomfort and shock today.
posted by mwhybark at 9:12 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it at an art house theater in Austin when it came to town after a coworker insisted I see it so we could talk about it. I don't have specific memories of the crowd reaction, but this is Austin where we have Leslie.

Also, judith's answer is another one of those "this is what makes ask.metafilter.com so cool" comments.
posted by birdherder at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it before there was a big buzz about the "surprise"; I had just heard it was a well-done indie movie. Pretty much everyone I was hanging out with at the time were gender-bending bisexual queers, so it wasn't really that big of a deal. I remember being kind of offended that the character would be so repulsed, but I enjoyed the rest of the movie, and thought Jaye was hot.
posted by matildaben at 10:02 AM on November 5, 2005

I spent the rest of the movie wondering if it was special effects or real and therefore don't remember how it ends.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:14 AM on November 5, 2005

There had been so much talk and hype about the big twist that it was pretty much all I could think of when I went to see the movie. As soon as Jaye walked on screen, my friend and knew he was a guy, so we were pretty disappointed. However, Forrest Whitaker's death in that movie made me gasp out loud. That, I never saw coming.
posted by jrossi4r at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it in a eurocommie movie theatre. nobody gasped. at the end, everybody was saying what a great film that was, and that the tranny looked pretty good.

I remember people gasping during Les Liasons Dangereuses (when Thurman removes her corset) and during La Femme Publique.
In a London cinema, a few people ran out of the theatre during Reservoir Dogs' torture scene.

And he's got Alzheimer's when Moore is interviewing him!!

which movie is that? Julianne Moore? Roger Moore?
posted by matteo at 10:43 AM on November 5, 2005

Michael Moore & Charton Heston is fahreheit 911, I guess.
posted by the cuban at 10:49 AM on November 5, 2005

Or Bowling for Columbine.. :)
posted by the cuban at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2005

It's been playing on IFC lately. I recorded it and watched the infamous scene again. This time I was mostly surprised by how bushy people used to be down there.
posted by faceonmars at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2005

I saw it the weekend it came out, before the hype began, in Iowa City with my mom (of all people!). I think we picked it because we both like Stephen Rea. In any case, we were both somewhat surprised, but we also both had had a feeling that something like that might be up -- I recall my mom turning to me and whispering excitedly "so that explains his hands" or something like that. I don't recall any audible gasps from the rest of the audience (and the theatre was maybe about half full, but not packed -- again, this was about a week before the hype began); being a liberal college town, though, the reactions I overheard as we walked out were generally along the lines of "wow, what a surprise! That was a cool movie!", etc.
posted by scody at 11:26 AM on November 5, 2005

oh, yes! you're right, thanks the Cuban!
posted by matteo at 12:01 PM on November 5, 2005

Siskel & Ebert really pimped for this movie, and made sure that they thought the "surprise" was really just a small part of the movie. There was enough discussion of it in the media that an astute person could probably figure it out; I guess you could say I came close but didn't quite. Anyway, I took away much more than that one scene -- especially the tender friendship between Fergus and Jody.

The politics of the movie -- which seem to indict the IRA -- are considered slightly reactionary by some leftist critics, which has hurt Neil Jordan's reputation. I thought it was worth it for the setup of the Fergus character, though.

What a shame Davidson was a) so hard to cast b) didn't really want to act anyway, as he was terrific.
posted by dhartung at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2005

I saw it for the first time before the hype and figured it out from Davidson's hands. When I went back the next week, there was a couple sitting in the row in front and it was clear from the man's behaviour during the first part of the film that he was bored, or thought he was too cool for this kind of arty film, or something. Lots of sighs, checking his watch, looking everywhere but the screen, etc. As the sexual tension started heating up he settled down and paid more attention. At the Big Scene he said loudly "What the - ????!!!" He didn't leave, though. I think he was in shock.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:57 PM on November 5, 2005

There are still people who retch and vomit at the thought of transvestitism? How incredibly sad.

I knew there was going to be a "big surprise ending" going in -- the whole thing was incredibly overhyped, to the point where it seemed that was really all anyone was going to see the movie for, to find out what the big secret was. (I remember dozens of magazine articles and reviews that boiled down to "there's a thing! We can't tell you about it! Holy wow!")

So I went. And from the first moment she appeared onscreen I knew exactly what the surprise was going to be. (Wrists.) Left the rest of the movie kind of flat for me. I don't remember the rest of the audience reaction, honestly.
posted by ook at 3:06 PM on November 5, 2005

I knew Davidson's character was a man before he even appeared on screeen. Forest Whitaker shows a picture of his "girlfriend" to Stephen Rea, and I thought "His girlfriend's a tranny?".

What I'd like explained is why the credits say "introducing Forest Whitaker" when he'd already played the lead in an Oscar-nominated film four years before.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:13 PM on November 5, 2005

I was pre-spoiled, which kinda sucked, but I still thought it was a tremendous film. I saw it with some friends who I didn't spoil, and they hated, HATED the surprise and accused me of tricking them. But they were a bit, uh, socially conservative, so I guess I kinda was. Still, knowing the surprise kinda made the middle section feel flabby compared to the beginning with Fergie and Jody and post-Surprise sections. As someone mentioned above, the way that scene where Jody was running away from Fergie ended still shocked the heck out of me.
posted by boaz at 4:01 PM on November 5, 2005

dhartung: The politics of the movie -- which seem to indict the IRA -- are considered slightly reactionary by some leftist critics, which has hurt Neil Jordan's reputation. I thought it was worth it for the setup of the Fergus character, though.

That is interesting... Personally, I think that Jody being killed by an army APC says "British soldiers die because the British are in Ireland". A pretty strong statement in its own right, if I'm reading it right.
posted by Chuckles at 10:06 PM on November 5, 2005

I hadn't heard the spoilers and was completely surprised. I loved the movie, although the first section of it still stands out in my mind as one of the greatest moments in filmmaking ever. The whole rest of the film, with the gender-bending shit, was cool but not earth-shattering. At the time what took my breath away was the first third.

Another person I know said "what a transvestite" the second Dil appeared on the screen.

I remember a lot of talk about there being a "surprise" and not a lot of talk about transexuals in general. I guess the college-age crowd I was hanging with just considered it a SURPRISE like any other film surprise, and not a big deal unto itself. I've never gotten the sense from G/L/B/T friends that the film represented any kind of "moment" for them, either. It's all from the perspective of a frumpy straight guy, after all.
posted by scarabic at 10:20 PM on November 5, 2005

Spoiler alert!

"To Serve Man" is... a cookbook!

Well now I've gone and spoilt that "Twilight Zone" episode for everyone.
posted by clevershark at 11:04 PM on November 5, 2005

Thanks all, your accounts have been most illuminating, I wish I could mark them all as best answers.

I posed this question because from the moment Jaye came on screen, I knew Dil was a transvestite. But when I watched Stargate, I thought his character was played by a woman. So I was curious as to whether knowing "the secret" had affected my perception of the actor's portrayal. (i.e. He was a convincing woman in Stargate but not in The Crying Game.)

(And as for spoiling the movie, I'm sorry, but this movie is over a decade old and is part of pop culture. Geez, my little brothers and I were running around saying "Soylent Green is people" and "Rosebud" years before we even knew they came from movies.)
posted by lychee at 11:09 PM on November 5, 2005

There are still people who retch and vomit at the thought of transvestitism? How incredibly sad. - ook

Seconded. It was released more than ten years ago. Maybe things are different now? *hopeful*
posted by raedyn at 10:16 AM on November 7, 2005

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