Home Movies: The Quiet Man
By Max Nelson
“Innisfree is not a heaven,” a lifelong resident tells visiting American Sean Thornton (John Wayne) near the start of John Ford’s Irish fable—but it often looks the part. Ford’s Irishmen, with their fondness for ancestral drinking songs and folk ballads, find their greatest delight in the present when they’re mythologizing the past, and The Quiet Man, too, tends to conflate memory and myth. Its Ireland is a pastel-colored dreamscape, populated by fiery redheads, kindly drunks, and ex-boxer priests. There’s something melancholy about Ford’s attachment to his parents’ homeland, and something unsettling about the extent to which his affection for those priests and drunks depends on their participation in his imagined past. When Ford consigns his family history to the cemetery, and grants Sean and new bride-to-be Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) a rain-drenched kiss among the graves, it’s a celebration of the moment as natural as it is hard-won.