The Opening Image

Jim Sheridan’s film In the Name of the Father strikes me as having a particularly strong opening. It’s not the literal opening image — a corner pub — that tells us anything especially significant but the brief sequence it introduces.

Before we see anything, we hear (Bono & Gavin Friday). The music sets the mood for the film. It is at once distressing and enticing. I first saw the film on video, but if I’d been in a movie theater, I imagine I would have felt as well as heard the music – sound is touch, after all.

In The Dramatist’s Toolkit, Jeffrey Sweet writes:

Many of the great dramatists had a flair for heightening the effect of their scenes by choosing unusual or particularly dramatic objects.

Terry George and Jim Sheridan chose a simple object to connect us with people almost immediately snuffed out: a purse. First, they need to make sure we see it: a nameless woman hits her companion with it. Next, we see it illuminated as she enters the pub. Seconds later, the pub explodes and we see it once more when it hits the ground outside, this potent image within an image.

After less than a minute of screen time, we know why the film begins at that moment and we’re asking the only question that should matter at that moment: What’s going to happen next?