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Drowning Mulligan

I re-watched  Moving On: Drowning not Waving yesterday, and I can only conclude that anything that features Richard Armitage needs to be seen at least twice.

I’m not referring to the man himself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen N&S just to see him smouldering on my screen.

This is related to the fact that when you watch something with RA acting, you’re so focused on him, you miss many nuances of the plot.

I had a similar thought when I re-watched Sparkhouse.

 It turned out, there was a plot besides Poor John – a very interesting one indeed.

John Mulligan (played by Armitage) is hot beyond anything. I admire the cheeky grin, the smart casual clothes, the adoration of Fish & Chips.

Once you look beyond that, you learn that John is a predator.

He preys on the weak and the injured.

Elie (Christine Tremarco) has reached a deadend in her life. She’s heavily in debt, living well beyond her means.

She’s lonely, which is exemplified by the seemingly perfect life her best friend leads.

She seems discontent. Worse still, she is waiting for a Prince Charming to swoop in and save her.

This notion is particularly painful to watch, and more than a bit annoying. If she had been stable in her life, if she realised that salvation is within herself, the charminly dashing John would not have been able to take advantage of her.

John dones a mask to become all that she feels she needs.

 In many ways he is the perfect con artist. He’s able to create an environment in which she discards her basic survival instinct, silences her intuition.

One could say it is not only human nature, but the nature of all social primates to have contradictory emotional impulses toward the weak.

On the one hand, John seems genuinely willing to offer Elie support, to help her with her financial woes.

On the other, he takes advantage of her weakeness. Perhaps he felt that altruism was beyond his capabilities as a human being.

What happens when we dismiss the notion of taking advantage as an aspect of human nature?

This would mean that it is a sign of the corruption of human nature.

This certainly fits in with what we know about Mulligan.

He was the bad boy of the school, the troublemaker, raised in a rough neighborhood, in less than perfect circumstances.

Elie is weak, there can be no doubt about that, but John could also be seen as such.

He doesn’t believe he can sustain himself through honest actions.

 One may argue that only the weak prey on the weak.

John’s weakness is most evident in the last scene. It’s not that he’s in police custody. It’s the fact that he tries to place blame, to share the responsibility for his actions. His logic is that Elie had also enjoyed the benefits of the drug money.

He doesn’t try to exonerate himself. He needs her to be as bad as he is.

 He tries to make her an active participant in the corrupt system.

Images: RANet

If you haven’t seen it, here a clip to whet your appetite:


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10 responses »

  1. Very good. I’m really enjoying your analysis of RA works!!! Not long ago I concluded that I should watch a movie I liked at least twice. I’m not a attentive person so, in the first time I have a general idea of the story. In a second time, I tend to pay attention to many details I lost before.

    • Thanks Luciana 🙂 At least twice, I say! The first time you can focus on RA, on his sexiness (we’re only human, after all…), it’s the second viewing that allows us to place his character in an actual plot! He’s such a good actor, it would be shame to concentrate on his physical attributes, and not get to see what the man can actually do! 😉

      • Lol… At least twice for movies in general, but for RA movies, I’ll need to watch at least 10 times because it takes me a long time to take my eyes off his physical attributes, specially his wonderful blue eyes!!! 😀

        • It’s a tough job to have to watch RA at least 10 times, but someone’s got to do it 😉 I hope someday he will appreciate your sacrifice LOL!

          • It’s really a huge sacrifice… a pity he’ll never know. LOL!!!

          • I’m now going through the RA things I’ve never seen before, or have seen in passing. They may be better, or worse, but that man can make my heart go aflutter in anything! It’s like there are giant arrows pointing to him, and just him, every time he appears onscreen. If I were a producer, I’d just stick him in a monologue and saw myself a pretty penny on the other actors fee 😉

  2. I find Mulligan renders quite a few strong points about liberal capitalist ethics in the closing conversation at prison. His appearance as almost a sage at the end retrospectively gives full body to a sleazy predator focused on a practical goal. It turns out that he has the philosophy, that he thought things over in his head and resolved his ethic position: self-consciousness makes him much more sincere and grounded than best friend Maria with dirty little secrets or immature Ellie herself unable to resist overspending. John Mulligan character is similar to Valmont of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and Lovelace of “Clarissa” (I hope you listened to BBC radio drama and RA at his best), and Ellie resembles the whole class of female literary characters who expect life to be a novel – from Don Quixote, via Austen’s Catherine Moreland or Emma Bovary, to contemporary chick-lit heroines waiting for Disney deus ex machina type of making life comfortable and worthwhile.

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself (no, really, I couldn’t). In many ways Mullian is similar to the mill masters from N&S. The means are not important, what is important is the goal. Mulligan would see upward mobility, getting out of the slums, as a goal that justifies any action. In all honesty, I doubt any justification is necessary for him. Like any predator worth his salt, he believes in the survival of the fittest, therefore most people along the way are just collateral damage. I found the female characters beyond frustrating. Maria is the stereotypical woman who uses her charms to achieve a certain status in life. Instead of earning the right to live in the manner she does, she has exchanged it for a life of a kept woman, one devoid of ambition or drive. She is petty, and any problems or complications that may arise are of her own doing. The same goes for Elie. That’s why I found the character of Carol in Sparkhouse so fascinating. Here we have a woman who is dealt heavy blows all her life. Her actions are really reactions to the circumstances that surround her. We may see her as a victim becoming the victomiser (of John, for example), but there’s an honesty about her. I think both Marie and Elie could learn a thing or two from Carol!

      • The parallel between Carol and Mulligan didn’t occur to me, but as you mention it, I keep thinking about ideological instance of self-made man, of invention of self as one of the pivots of capitalism, emancipating man from god and destiny from determinism, with all the moral queasiness that comes with boundless freedom of self-proclaimed ruler of the universe. That’s, I think, the ideological background of both Carol and Mulligan, as well as the source of ambivalence we feel about their actions and motives.

        • There is a certain pragmatism to the way they think, and in both cases their moral compass was shaped in very difficult circumstances. The difference I see between the two is that Carol not only looking out for herself. She’s made sacrifices in her life for her sister/daughter. Mulligan was willing to implicate the woman he loved in a criminal activity. Bad things happen to Carol, Mulligan, as a self-made man, makes his own luck (or at least his version of it).


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