Irreconcilable Modes of Masculinity: The Prevalence of Contemporary Irish-American Double-Protagonist Films
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Ann Marie Stock
Since the earliest days of American cinema, Irish and Irish-American narratives have entertained and captivated mass audiences. Currently, there is a pattern of Irish-American contemporary films that fit within a greater genre coined by film critic David Greven — the double-protagonist film. In summation, Greven argues that double-protagonist films feature two male leads that compete for narrative dominance. Most importantly, each lead represents an opposing type of masculinity. These films deal with the negotiation of power between a masochist and a narcissist, one of who takes on a more dominant role.
In the past two decades, there has been enough Irish American films and television shows that fit the double-protagonist genre to argue that it has become a recurring narrative. However, the significance of this pattern comes from how these iterations are unique within the genre. The films all feature two men from an Irish-American community, who are often brothers. The narcissist who stays connected to his roots gets involved in drug abuse, alcoholism, and/or organized crime, while the masochist who emancipates himself from both his double and his community ultimately succeeds. Consequently, these films argue that not only is masochism the correct mode of masculinity, but also that Irish-America is toxic for promoting the cult of narcissism. Four films frame this argument— The Departed [Scorsese, 2006], Black Irish [Gann, 2007], The Fighter [O’Russell, 2010], and The Town [Affleck, 2010].
This thesis will both explain the intricacies of the Irish-American subgenre of double-protagonist films and why this pattern is currently prevalent. Greven argues that the genre exists for monetary reasons because two stars are likely to draw more people to the box office. He also says that cinematic manhood has been building towards the split mode of masculinity, citing earlier genres like noir and the western as evidence. While Greven’s suggestions are valid, this thesis argues that a multitude of factors have contributed to the preponderance of Irish-American double-protagonist narratives — including but not limited to the effect of globalization, the Catholic Church priest scandal, the James “Whitey” Bulger media frenzy, and the traditional way that Irish-Americans have allowed themselves to be portrayed cinematically. Thus, this pattern exists simply because it reflects the current conditions of Irish-America.
Curran, Anne Riley, "Irreconcilable Modes of Masculinity: The Prevalence of Contemporary Irish-American Double-Protagonist Films" (2016). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 937.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
On-Campus Access Only