The Wind the Shakes the Barley is an insightful and beautifully shot film from veteran UK filmaker Ken Loach about the Irish Independence War and the subsequent Irish Civil War. It stars the handsome and talented Cillian Murphy, who is perhaps best known for playing the creepy, evil guy in Batman Begins and Red Eye. This time he plays Damien, a young man who forsakes his chosen path of medical school, and instead becomes one of the founders of the Irish Republican Army. The Wind that Shakes the Barley won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, but instead of films, parties on Diddy’s yacht probably dominated news out Cannes that year too. Initially the film had some trouble securing a US release. While one website suggested that US distributors worried about the film’s ability to resonate with US audiences, I have also heard that the film had trouble securing release because it provides too sympathetic a view of terrorism in a post 9/11 world.
The movie illustrates how the use of indiscriminate violence, in this case the brutal tactics of the repressive British, can turn the average person into a cold killer. The movie never glorifies violence; rather it is heavy with the psychological burdens of violent acts. But as I read about suicide bombers on the BBC on at least a weekly basis, if not more often, stopping men (and women) from strapping bombs to their person begins with understanding the situations that cause any individual to resort to extreme violence. The Wind that Shakes the Barley suggests (perhaps controversially, albeit truthfully) that any person, in the right conditions, or rather under the right conditions of brutal violence and discrimination, can become a terrorist. I am not talking about your Bin Ladens, but about his young and willing recruits. And as a non-violent peace activist, I never condone violence and am certainly not giving terrorists a get out of jail free card, but The Wind That Shakes the Barley bravely probes the motivations of one terrorist, thus making a timely statement on the nature of terrorism and questions the use of combating violence with yet more violence.