By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jun 16, 2010
It took a 12-year investigation that cost $280 million and filled 5,000 pages.
But now we know. In the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron: "What happened should never, ever have happened... Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government --- and indeed our country --- I am deeply sorry.”
What happened on Bloody Sunday, almost 40 years ago?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a movie's worth a million. And that movie exists --- it's Bloody Sunday, released in 2002 and directed by Paul Greengrass, who'd go on to direct two ultra-exciting "Bourne" movies. [For Amazon video on demand, click here. For those who prefer iTunes, click here.]
The back story: We're in Derry, in Northern Ireland, in January of 1972. The British rule here, as they have for a century. They have recently initiated internment without trial --- they are determined to curb Irish unrest. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association calls for a protest march on Sunday, January 30. It's to start in a Catholic suburb and end in the center of Protestant power.
Now to the technique: Like the director of Battle of Algiers, Greengrass tends to use a handheld camera. You don't get to distance yourself: This movie is in your face. Maybe it's more accurate to say: It is your face. Because you are there.
You are there in a documentary that starts as a study in heroism. Here is Ivan Cooper, an Irish (but Protestant) member of Parliament, rushing around to encourage friends to join the march and and begging British soldiers to give him free passage. He's non-violent. But those British soldiers --- they seem to want a fight.
“Bloody Sunday” is the story of that fight. It may be hard to figure out which side starts it: Chaos prevails. Not hard to see who uses overpowering, unnecessary violence --- by day's end, the Brits have killed 13 innocent Irish civilians. And then, of course, comes the propaganda…because the Brits, don't you see, just had to defend themselves against these wild hooligans and agitators.
You knew little or nothing about this incident? Wrong. You have heard --- endless times --- “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2. If you've paid attention, you know it's a cry of agony:
I can't believe the news today
Oh, I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long must we sing this song?
The movie takes that cry and amps it up. It won the Audience Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and tied for the Golden Bear at that year's Berlin Film Festival. It is guaranteed to have you on your feet --- yes, in your own home --- shaking with disbelief and rage. Even 40 years later.