Film Festival Pick: Irish Twins

by Latoya Peterson

Last night, I watched the best of the DC Shorts film festival, which featured a week of short films from around the globe.

The last film of the evening was called Irish Twins, written and directed by Ryder and Shiloh Strong.

The film’s synopsis reads:

Born within a year of each other, Michael and Seamus Sullivan have become very different men. On the eve of their father’s funeral, Seamus drags Michael to the local pub in their small, logging community of northern California.

He attempts to convince his brother that they must take their father’s ashes to Ireland in tribute.

Of course, it isn’t long before Seamus’ true intentions are revealed, when his involvement with a group of local drug dealers becomes impossible to avoid, and Michael must confront how much he is willing to sacrifice for his Irish twin.

But what compelled me most about the film (outside of great pacing and drama) was the discussion of Irish identity. (Warning: Mild dialogue spoilers ahead, explicit language.)

In the movie, Ryder Strong plays Michael Sullivan – the responsible, slightly anal retentive older brother. Michael Sullivan is a polished professional and spends the first half of the movie annoyed by the ramblings of his brother Samus (Shiloh Strong). As his brother fondly knocks back shots with his father’s ashes in an urn on the bar, Michael becomes more and more agitated with how his brother chooses to reminisce.

He is embarrassed at how Samus keeps calling them “Irish twins” eventually screaming out, “That is a derogatory term! Don’t you get that? Poor immigrants fucking and creating kids they can’t feed because they were too stupid to wear a fucking condom!”

His brother keeps asking him to go to Ireland and Michael seems to reject the notion of a mythical homeland. In many ways, the character of Michael appears to be assimilated – he creates distance between himself and his family and is ashamed by the actions they take, as they uphold negative stereotypes. Michael refers to the Irish as “the drinking diaspora,” and often shuts down Seamus’ fond memories by reminding him of other parts of their childhood.

There is a point in the movie where Seamus is telling a story about his father at the bar, passing around Seamus’ solider photo and mentioning that his boy is out there “killing sand niggers.” Michael recoils at that statement and protests, but Seamus continues on with his story.

I found that an interesting insertion into the script. As I discussed with a friend post-viewing, it was interesting to see a movie that had a plot revolve around the stereotyping aimed at Irish, and insert a racist slur toward another group so casually. Michael’s reaction also reinforces the differences between how the two brothers perceive their identity: while Seamus sees himself just repeating a story his father told, Michael sees examples of fulfilling the worst of Irish stereotypes.

In an interview with Paper Magazine, the brothers talk a little about their ideas going into the film:

Rebecca Carroll: So you’re not Irish twins in age, but are you Irish anyway?

Shiloh Strong: Technically, I guess.

Ryder Strong: We think so. Irish, Scottish. But all family myths that the characters talk about [in the film] are actually our family myths. Our great grandfather claimed to be the bastard child of John L. Sullivan, the boxer. We think a lot of its crap, but our dad’s side of the family is supposedly Irish.

SS: But that’s a huge thing in the short, too, that whole idea of Irish pride — [the characters] hold so strongly onto this sense of identity from somewhere else.

[...]

RC: So would you say that Irish Twins has a message or is it just meant to be entertaining?

RS: No, we meant to play with themes. The fundamental theme, which we kind of just talked about yesterday for the first time, is you can’t escape your family for better or worse, and in this case for worse. For the character of Michael — against his better judgment, against his morality and despite his accomplishments in life — his connection to his brother brings him to this awful place at the end of the movie.

Overall, I felt the film was a very interesting reminder that just because a group appears to have assimilated into “whiteness,” that isn’t always the end of the story.

Any thoughts? (Or, did anyone else see the movie?)


Irish Twins Trailer