Do Over: Into The West
Into The West was released in 1992. It was an exciting but bloody serious time, just before the Boom, long before anyone had ever heard of Moneygall, and right about the time a nation’s irreverence sprung forth from Eamonn Casey’s meandering loins so no one had to go to Mass anymore. Into The West captured a mirthless snapshot of Ireland so that future generations would know it hadn’t always been a country of highfalutin’ hi-tech largesse. Don’t let the theatrical poster fool you; Into The West was a movie with a mission: to make everyone as fucking miserable as possible for 97 dismal minutes.
Into The West stars Gabriel Byrne as A Total Ride With Issues, who’s bringing up his two young sons very, very badly after the death of his beloved wife.
He’s also a Traveller who lives in a tower block, which is a terrible existence. That’s according to the lads’ grandfather David Kelly and to the screenwriters, mind; we think Gabriel Byrne had every right to put a solid roof over his kids’ heads if that’s what he wanted to do, but according to Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite, that’s tantamount to child abuse. Well, as it happens, it kind of is in Gabriel Byrne’s case, because this being early ‘90s Ireland, the Council estate he lives on is overrun with bonfires, stray tyres and social workers. Also, Gabriel Byrne is frequently drunk and the kids – Tito and Ossie – have to go singing on the streets to get money to buy chips. And Ossie has asthma so that’s extra super tragic.
Anyway, the kids’ granddad David Kelly comes by one day in a proper Wanderly Wagon wagon and he’s brought a beautiful white horse called Tír Na nÓg with him. Being that Tír Na nÓg is a symbol for Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite, David Kelly has to berate Gabriel Byrne for being fucking useless, which makes Gabriel Byrne tetchy and he storms around in a long leather coat for ages, giving out.
The kids are enchanted by the horse, and vice versa, so of course David Kelly lets them keep it. In the tower block. Right there in the sitting room. Gabriel Byrne is still sulking, but he eventually half-notices in a pathos-saturated way when some Evil Guards break down the door and take away the horse, because one shouldn’t have a horse in a tower block because it’s surely against every health and safety regulation there is, except the ones specific to Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite.
Anyway, the kids are heartbroken and Gabriel Byrne can’t cope with that any more than he can cope with anything else, so he goes down to the Evil Garda Station to pay the fine to get the horse home again. But it’s too late; the Evil Guards, led by Extra Evil Guard Brendan Gleeson, have sold the horse to a big businessman with a thin, cruel moustache and narrow, cruel eyes, and Gabriel Byrne is forced forcibly to sign the horse away. The Evil Guards in Into The West are very evil indeed, all except for the Head Guard, who is Bishop Brennan from Father Ted and therefore kind of hard to trust retrospectively, even if he clearly has morals in this outing. Brendan Gleeson is positively terrified of him.
The big businessman decides that Tír Na nÓg will compete in the Dublin Horse Show. Tito and Ossie spot Tír Na nÓg on the telly, teleport to Dublin Horse Show, break into the jumping ring and steal him away, thus beginning a journey into the West (you see?) because that’s where the horse is headed and the horse is the boss here. The Evil Guards, led by Evil Brendan Gleeson, are most displeased, and rough up Gabriel Byrne until he starts bleeding pathos. Pathos-dripping-out-of-every-orifice pathos. Luckily, Bishop Brennan puts a stop to it before it turns into torture porn, and Evil Brendan Gleeson stands there looking like a muck savage whose dad has just told him to stop buggering the chickens.
Gabriel Byrne has by now had it up to here with Evil Guards, so he washes his face in some dirt in a moving display of Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite, causing David Kelly’s jaw to sway gently in the breeze. Then the pair of them try to enlist the help of some other Travellers, proper Travellers who travel and not those culturally embarrassing ones who live in tower blocks. Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagin is the Head Traveller, but he’s like, ‘Naw, Gabriel Byrne, I am done with you, sheesh,’ so Gabriel Byrne is forced to run off into the West (you see?) with a rather small posse made up of Colm Meaney, who spends the rest of his screen time standing around in a bad hat, and Ellen Barkin for some reason. Good Jee-ay-us.
Anyway, now that all parties are headed into the West (you see?), the film picks up a bit of pace. Unfortunately, there’s only fifteen minutes left in it, and twelve of those are taken up by the credits, so we’re going to have to be very succinct from here. Ossie and Tito and Tír Na nÓg eat beans, hide in a cinema for a night, and make lots of references to Western movies. The Evil Guards procure a helicopter and give chase. Gabriel Byrne, Colm Meaney, Ellen Barkin and Ellen Barkin’s Oirish accent go to a chipper and get roundly abused by settled folk, causing Ellen Barkin to curse them with some Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite before it’s revealed that it was all a dream and they were never in a chipper. It’s all very confusing.
They reach the West -which is by definition a beach in Galway – all at the same time. The Evil Guards, yet again twisting the limits of decent behaviour, trap Gabriel Byrne and his posse in a net. Tír Na nÓg gallops into the sea with Ossie on his back. Everyone assumes Ossie is dead and Bishop Brennan is like a fucking lion over it. But all is not lost because Gabriel Byrne wades into the sea and comes back out holding Ossie. Why no one else, including the rakes of Gardaí in attendance, attempt the same is never explained. Probably because Gabriel Byrne is the only sanctioned conduit for Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite?
Ossie blurts out that he saw his mother in the sea, so it turns out Tír Na nÓg was an Oirish Traveller Mysticism Shoite Symbol for how Gabriel Byrne hadn’t faced up to the death of his wife. The guards are mollified by this and leave the family and posse to recover on the beach 150 miles away from home. They don’t even go looking for Tír Na nÓg, they’re so mollified. Great guards we have in this country – they’re either roughing up handsome wretches for shits and giggles, or they’re giving up on their duties as soon as there’s a chance they could get their feet wet.
So yeah, there’s a happy ending to Into The West. Gabriel Byrne realises the error of his ways, is instantly cured of his alcoholism, and we assume goes back to a noble life on the roads of Ireland with his boys.
Which is all very mawkish and strange, really. The depiction of Irish Travellers as mystical, magical creatures who fall to pieces when they settle is more than a little insulting, and a compromises a conveniently austere summation of the many facets of Traveller culture and how it either co-exists with or is swallowed up by ‘settled’ customs. Granted, it’s far better that Traveller culture is given a coating of fairy dust than have every Traveller character be some sort of shifty, violent asshole… pretty much like every settled character in the film. No matter where they go in Into The West, the Traveller characters are abused, humiliated and exploited; it’s relentlessly grim. And so it is that Travellers = noble and principled. Settled people = vicious bastards. Keeping a magic horse in a tower block = good. Taking said horse out of tower block = bad. The only shades of grey in Into The West are the result of blue camera filters.
The pervading message, in fact, is that Ireland was a horrible fucking place. From terrible downpours to filthy slums, and greasy social workers to corrupt Gardaí, Ireland is depicted as being full of people who’d sell their grandmothers if there was a snackbox in it for them. Reader, we submit to you: was it actually Into The West that killed Ireland’s tourism industry? No wonder Gabriel Byrne’s so down on The Gathering. Ruining all his hard work, it is.