From Where She Speaks: Normative Silence and Female Narrative Voice in Contemporary Irish Cinema
University of Limerick
(at time of presentation)
Niamh McLoughlin is a postgraduate student at the University of Limerick. Her chosen area of research is film studies, namely contemporary Irish cinema, while also embracing a number of other disciplines such as feminist criticism, gender theory and psychoanalysis. She completed a BA in Language, Literature and Film Studies at UL. She also previously taught English language classes in Spain and Mexico over a number of years. She is currently tutor for the Sociology of Gender and Popular Culture module within UL’s Sociology Department.
This paper focuses on women’s narrative voice in contemporary Irish cinema. In order to do so I will analyse two recent films that address notions of women’s testimony versus women’s normative silence: The Other Side of Sleep (Rebecca Daly, 2011) and Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014). Both texts represent notions of Irish women’s national and cultural identity as shaped by issues of generational normative silence. They do so through the medium of women’s voice (or lack of) within the narratives. I will show how the two films seek to question and problematise the ever-present nature of myths relating to women, for example that of religious icon, and their effects in relation to ideas of Irish women’s identity. I will claim that, through silence, the female characters in both texts demonstrate the generational struggle of Irish women to become self-determined subjects. Drawing on the manner in which both narratives address the constant imagery of an impossible cultural female icon that Irish women have been exposed to over a prolonged period, I will reveal how the traumatic experiences of the films’ characters relate to issues of memory which are not solely confined to present day generations of women. I therefore propose that the tension between simultaneous representations of the monstrous feminine and the virginal icon appear to constitute the paradigm for all significant acts, symbolised in the texts as the trauma left behind in the wake of normative silence. In conclusion, I aim to contextualise the rhetoric of monstrous and angelic projections of femininity within Irish cultural discourse, and the problematic implications of this as presented to us through women’s silence within the cinematic narratives of both Daly and McDonagh.