Note: So as not to spoil the story for those who
have not seen this excellent film we are not
including the text of the related Scripture, but
instead are referencing it in the guide. This is an
unpredictable film, so we strongly recommend
that you not read the guide section until you
have seen the film
Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) aretwo hit- men from Dublin stuck, as they see it, in the medieval town of Bruges, Belgium. Their exasperated boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) has sent them there because Ray, the younger of the two botched the first killing he has committed. Ken is thus like a babysitter, sanctioned to keep Ray from getting into any further trouble, until the heat in Dublin has died down. They are under strict orders to stay close to their hotel room and await further word from Harry.
It being the Christmas season, the city is more picturesque than ever at night time. However, Ray is so tied to Dublin that he is totally blind to the beauty of what is the most perfectly preserved medieval city in Europe with its ancient buildings and towers and network of canals and bridges. As he says to Ken, “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” He refuses to look up at the tower from which tourists can gain an awesome view of the town. Ken wants to climb up to the top, but Ray argues “why do I have to climb up there to see down here? I’m already down here.” The two visit the art museum, but only Ken is moved by the art, especially the paintings dealing with death and hell, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of “The Last Judgment.” Ray’s comment, “Maybe that’s what hell is, an entire eternity spent in Bruges.”
Ray’s interest is finally aroused when they pass by a square where a film is being shot. Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), a dwarf, is the center of the scene being filmed, but it is one of the crew, Chloe (Clemence Poesy), who catches Ray’s eye. He gets off on the wrong foot with them, but within 24 hours has arranged to meet and drink with them both, first with Chloe, and then Jimmy. Turns out his tryst with Chloe is a set up. She was not a film crew member but a drug dealer bringing drugs to Jimmy. Her ex-boy friend arrives at her apartment to rob Ray, but the latter gains the upper hand, and later even joins Jimmy in a round of drinking and having sex with prostitutes.
Meanwhile Ken has stayed in their hotel room to await the phone call from Harry. When Harry calls, Ken does not like what he hears. Harry commands him to kill Ray. It was in an earlier flashback that we learned that a choir boy present in the church was accidentally killed when Ray shot the priest in the confessional box. In the twisted logic of Harry’s criminal mind, it seems, it is all right to kill a priest, but killing a kid is something unforgivable. (In one short scene in Harry’s home we see the basis for his aversion to the killing of a young child—he has several of his own.) Ray himself is wracked with guilt over the boy’s death because he had read the paper on which the boy had written out the childish sins for which he sought forgiveness.
Ken is now faced with a moral dilemma because he obviously likes the young killer. Nonetheless, he agrees, and the next day picks up the gun that Harry’s agent has for him. But when Ken sets out through town in search of his prey, something strange happens. And this leads to even stranger events when that night Harry shows up and there is a climactic shoot-out, the last surrealistic scene owing much to Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. Writer and director Martin McDonagh, well known for his theatrical work in Great Britain, has given us not just a dark comedy and thriller, but one that suggests that a touch of grace and goodness can be found in even the most damned soul. The vulgar language will make it difficult to use this film with a church group, restricting it to adults with a fair tolerance for gutter language.
Again, we warn you that for the fullest enjoyment of this surprise-packed film, wait until you have seen it before reading further. Don’t even look up the text in John.
Scripture text: John 15:13
1. How are Ken and Ray typical tourist “types,” judging from your own experiences in traveling?
2) In what ways is this film similar to those of the film noir genre? How is it different? What effect does its dark humor produce?
3) What effect does the killing of the choir boy have: on Ray; on Harry?
4) Did you find the following words of Ray surprising? What do they reveal?
“There’s a Christmas tree somewhere in London with a bunch presents underneath it that’ll never be opened. And I thought, if I survive all of this, I’d go to that house, apologize to the mother there, and accept whatever punishment she chose for me: prison, death. Didn’t matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in f—in’ Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me. And I realized, f— man, maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in f—in’ Bruges. And I really, really hoped I wouldn’t die. I really, really hoped I wouldn’t die.” 5) What effect do you think the paintings in the art museum are having on Ken? How so we see that he is a more complex character than the usual movie hit man?
6) What was Ray about to do when Ken approached him from behind in the park? Were you surprised by Ken’s next act—after all, what are we led to expect him to do?
7)What do Chloe and Jimmy add to the story? Especially “a racist dwarf” ?!
8) Were you surprised at what Ken did in the tower shootout with Harry? What does the latter mean when he asks if Ken is going “Gandhi on me” ?
9) After Ken’s sacrifice how do you think most films would have ended?
10) The season in which the film is set, Christmas, is probably no accident: what does it have to do with the moral development of Ken and Ray? What about Harry’s mentioning Gandhi—strange for a crime thriller? Note that Gandhi believed that even the most depraved sinner (he included even Hitler in some of his essays) has some tiny element of goodness to which a person practicing non-violence could appeal. How is this borne out in what Ken does?
11) What does the film suggest in regard to guilt? Hell? In Ray’s thought about going to the family of the murdered boy, what does it reveal about his search for a way out? How is this like what Christians mean by atonement?
12) In the confrontation between Harry and Ray at the hotel what does the incident involving the concierge Marie contribute to the film? What do you think of the climax? Irony? Any sense of redemption?