When Potato Eyes Are Crying

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Is conflict, for some cultures, a natural state? Looking at Northern Ireland from across the Atlantic this week, it certainly seemed that way. Summer in Belfast means "parade season" (such an innocuous term for it), when Protestants celebrate centuries-old military victories over Catholics not with conciliation, as a naf might have hoped for this year, but with loud chest-beating marches past the Catholics' own front stoops. For the Orangemen this is called "tradition." Of course in Northern Ireland, killing is no less venerated a custom; one might argue the two ought to be buried together.

Any athelete will tell you that sports are war, only simpler and better, and when enemies engage in such deathless violence, the battle can be not just metaphorical, but curative -- that's why the US threw the Iran match (just kidding). And that's what Daniel Day-Lewis' aging pugilist had in mind in the The Boxer, a didactic but ultimately moving fistful of the long-running (and perhaps unending) "troubles" that have riddled Belfast for 29 years. Day-Lewis does us a big favor by not raising his voice above a murmur, and that brave (for him) restraint mirrors the film's tone: gray, grim, brooding and suffused with futility -- with just enough gritty human hopefulness to justify your pressing PLAY. The peaceful fight and the fighters kill, and only the boxer knows when to stop punching. There's nary a moment to cheer in the entire film -- it's no Rocky installment -- and that makes it just the right choice for the end of what, for diplomats, must have been a saddening week.

For maximum effect, watch late at night and alone. A pint or two is recommended but of course optional. But rewinding -- just to watch it over and over again -- gets more than a little depressing.