Sunday, March 29, 2009

Subplot - A Key to An Inner Door

We end Irish month with the delightfully funny Waking Ned Devine. When an elderly man wins the lottery, he dies from shock, and the entire town covers up the death and schemes to claim his winnings. You'd think this was a movie about greed, but not so, and the key to this fact is in the subplot.

First, here's what goes on in the main thread of the story. In the tiny coastal village of Tullymore, someone has won the lottery. It's announced on the telly that one person holds the ticket, and the townspeople set out to guess who it is. Jackie and Michael are old men who act like young boys and are best friends. They ask around town and suspect it may be Pig Finn because he's driving a fancy sportscar, but discover it's only borrowed. Finally, the pair, along with Jackie's wife Annie throw a chicken dinner party where they plan to ask each guest what they would do if they won the money, hoping someone will tip their hand. At the end of the evening, it appears that no one has won. Annie notices, however, that one plate of chicken was never eaten. Someone missed the party.

After a quick run-through in their heads of the guests, they realize it was Ned Devine that didn't make it. Jackie goes to check on the man, and finds him dead in his chair, the winning lotto ticket clutched in his fingers, and a big grin on his face. Ned, it seems, lives alone and has no family. Jackie goes back home without calling the authorities as he thinks about how he should approach this new development. That night, he has a dream where Ned is eating his chicken dinner while they both drift in a boat toward "the light." Ned is at peace and in a celebratory mood. Jackie wakes up and believes Ned is telling him to claim the money.

Jackie convinces Michael to pretend to be Ned when the lottery official comes, and they hide the body. When the man, Jim Kelly, shows up, he sees Jackie on the beach and asks where Tullymore is. He hasn't seen Michael as he is behind a large boulder. It seems the two friends were skinny dipping in the ocean, and Jackie has gotten dressed while Michael lingers with his towel on. When Jackie realizes this is the lottery official, he hops into Jim's car to direct him to Ned's house, the...uh...long way. Meanwhile, Michael, who is having trouble getting his pants on, hops on his motorcycle stark naked except for his helmet (safety first, you know,) and races to Ned's before the car can get there. (I'll talk about this brief nude scene at the end of the article.) Michael changes into Ned's clothes, and after a few more Laverne and Shirley moments, Jim is dupped into believing that Michael is his man. He leaves satisfied and says he'll have to visit the village in a few days to make some inquiries to be sure that he is Ned Devine.

Now they have to convince the town to go along with the scheme. Annie doesn't want a part of it, telling them they'll both go to prison.

Jackie calls the town together to explain what he and Michael have done. He apologizes for thinking he could claim the money by himself. He had no idea the winnings would be so large--seven million pounds. It's all or none of us, he says. The money will be claimed and divided equally among the fifty-two of them. He tells them to think about it, and later they will sign a paper saying they agree. Either all sign, or they don't claim the money, and he and Michael will take what's coming to them. Annie comes around, saying Jackie is no good to her in prison, but you get the idea that the amount of money also swayed her.

The next day, everyone signs except the town sourpuss, a bitter old woman in an electric wheelchair. Everyone shows up at her door bearing gifts to bribe her into signing. With Jackie, Annie, and Michael sitting in her parlor, she asks them, "Did you know if you report a fraud, you get ten percent of the winnings?" That sum would be more than they're offering her to sign their paper. She assures them she won't call the Lotto, but she wants her share bumped up to the amount of money she would have gotten if she had.

They hold Ned's funeral, and the official shows up unexpectedly. He listens as Jackie gives the eulogy, quickly revising it to bury his old friend Michael. Michael listens to his own funeral, thoroughly enjoying all the great things Jackie is saying about their friendship. Afterward, Jim Kelly tells Michael/Ned that he's satisfied and that he'll get his check.

The wake becomes a true celebration. And as Ned's friends party, Jim drives away.

Meanwhile, Lizzie, knowing they'll never give her the exorbitant amount she'd asked for, makes her way to the nearest phone booth, (some miles out of town,) in her motorized wheelchair. They'd had a storm earlier and it knocked down all the phone lines in town. She shows her true colors when the wheelchair runs out of juice, and she gets out and walks. Lizzie apparently only uses the thing to get sympathy. She finally makes it to the phone booth and begins her call to the Lotto. At the same time, Jim Kelly, who has dreadful allergies in the country, sneezes and loses control of his car. We think he's going to hit the phone booth, but he swerves in time, nearly hits a vicar in his van, and causes the vicar to hit the booth, knocking it off the cliff and to the sandy beach below. Lizzie has had her come-uppance, and it seems by a divine hand as it was a man of God who had finished her off.

That is the main story line. It seems complete. What could the writer have added to it in a subplot?

Briefly, here's the subplot. A young single mother loves Pig Finn, but can't stand his smell. He get's his name by working a pig farm. Finn loves her back, but can't quit because he needs the money. A wealthy outsider also loves Maggie, and she'd do well to marry him, but she doesn't love him. She knows Finn would be a great dad to Maurice. Both men think they could be the boy's father. She finally tells Finn that he's the father, but confesses to Jackie during the wake that Ned Devine is really the boy's dad. Maurice is Ned's heir, and therefore could have the entire seven million pounds. But, she tells him he'd be spoiled from the money. Besides, Finn would never understand, and Maurice would grow up without a dad.

Yowza! What a message! Our movie about greed has become a movie about sacrifice. Ned sacrifices his life for his community, (okay, he had a little help.) Jackie and Michael sacrifice going to prison to bring in the other townspeople. And Maggie sacrifices the whole Shepherds Pie to give her son what he really needs.

The subplot opens the door to this theme of sacrifice, making it even more clear, and giving it a satisfying punch.

Now, a word about the nudity and other less moral issues in this film. At first, I wondered why they would have a scene showing naked wrinkled old men. (It's all from the back except the motorcycle ride, that that's so far away, and possibly blurred that you can't see anything you shouldn't.) Then, I realized that it shows these guys as the little boys they are. It's symbolic. It's also European. They don't have the same mindset that we have here. Nothing was dirty, but rather innocent contrasted with the fact that they were about to break the law. Another issue you may have as a Christian is Lizzie's demise. If this had been written from a Christian perspective, I'm sure she would have seen the error of her ways. And finally Maggie's problem--a son who doesn't know who his father is. Throughout the film, young Maurice confides in the vicar, (not the one who delivered judgement on Lizzie's phone booth.) We see him as a kid seeking answers, and seeking them in the right places.

So, if you watch this movie, please just enjoy the story. Like God's people, it's not perfect, but it sure is entertaining to watch!


Bonnie Doran said...

I watched this movie a long time ago. I forgot most of the story except for the town hiding Ned Devine's death so they can collect the lottery money.

The subplot adds complexity to the story and is certainly something I want to weave into my own novels.

Maybe I should rent it, eh?

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