The Quiet Man and Peace

The Quiet Man and Peace February 15, 2023

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And now we turn our attention to that most enticing and elusive of experiences in these modern days: peace. Moreover, I’d like to do so through the lens of one of one of my favorite films.

John Ford’s 1952 film, The Quiet Man, is a special sort of film that extracts a lot of drama from a fairly intimate, self-contained story, and all without coming off as melodramatic or self-indulgent. This is also one of the most visually beautiful films ever made, and it is also perhaps the only time we see The Duke playing something like a romantic hero.

What most caught my attention upon this last rewatch was the way that this movie creates a believable sense of community for Sean as well as for the audience–the two objectives are after all related. The people of Innisfree are bizarre and eccentric, but there’s a real sense of kinship that naturally extends to the viewer. This represents a model of what we should expect in our own congregations, which ought to function as a sanctum of peace for the living disciple. This is not at odds with the text’s literal display of church activity. We see both church attendees and church officials within this cast of characters navigating the chaos of mortality in a way that is very endearing to behold. But the thing I’d really like to talk about here is the way the film’s larger dialogue about the pursuit of peace in a world that is constantly holding it captive.

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The film follows former boxer, Sean Thornton, returning from America to his home country of Ireland after he accidentally kills his boxing opponent. He comes looking for peace and quiet, but he is immediately taken by the willful and captivating Mary-Kate Danaher. A romance seems imminent, but custom and tradition stand between them. It would be taboo for Mary-Kate to accept Sean’s courtship without the blessing of her brutish older brother, and he loathes Sean on a personal level. The townspeople are able to assuage him into allowing them to court only for him to double down once they are married and deny Mary-Kate her dowry. Mary-Kate expects Sean to stand up for her and demand that her brother give her what is rightfully hers, but Sean insists that his fighting days are past him. Yet if Sean is to find his happy ending with Mary-Kate, he will need to ask himself if there is anything or anyone he would fight for.

Sean enters the world of the film with an eye for something many will find very familiar: he just wants a simple life where he isn’t put in positions to hurt others or himself. But Sean wants more than just peace and quiet. He wants to distance himself from an incident that haunts him. In short, he wants distance from his inner demons. The irony is that as Sean digs in his heels in the name of keeping the peace, he only creates more tension, especially for Mary-Kate. We can infer that Mary-Kate has had to be her own advocate all her life, and wants nothing more than someone who will go to bat for her for once.

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The film teases the image of Sean and Mary-Kate settling into their domestic paradise as a token for the life they could have together if they can resolve the tension between them. Before Sean can find this peace, he has to make his own peace with the natural turbulence of life–defending his wife’s honor is a worthy call to arms. The kind of undemanding lifestyle that Sean, as well as most of us, crave in our mortality isn’t really within reach. But there is something to be said for how one can find support and bliss even amidst life’s inherent maelstroms and battles through the respect and company of someone you love.

This is most on display in a scene that comes midway through the film. On their first formal date, Sean and Mary-Kate are exploring an old castle together when they are caught in a thunderstorm. What emerges as this inconvenience or even threat to the happy couple turns into something romantic as the two embrace in the downfall, as pictured in this post’s lead image. You get this vivid moment of these two feeling wholly safe with each other even as the elements rage around them, and this really captures the film’s ethos on what it means to find peace in a life that is constantly asking us to be on our guard.

It’s really hard to convincingly portray something like lasting peace in a way that feels believable by virtue of life’s natural turbulence. This kind of peace often feels out of reach for the viewer, at least while we’re still venturing through this thing called mortality, but I maintain that it’s important that we continue to train ourselves in cultivation and pursuit of substantive happiness. The path to contentment often carries us through that which tests us most, but it’s a path worth treading.

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