We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – Adam & Paul

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…

We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film


Adam & Paul

( Lenny Abrahamson, 2004)

‘… brought Irish cinema close to Beckettian brilliance…’

John Moran

Adam & Paul brought Irish cinema close to Beckettian brilliance. A day in the life of two drugs addicts, its bleak humour contrasts well with glossier impressions of Celtic Tiger Dublin.

The film opens superbly. Fragile flowers blow in the wind, perhaps a symbol of the nature of Adam and Paul’s condition. When we first see them, we laugh when Adam realizes that a stranger has glued him to the mattress. We see Paul’s tenderness, and stupidity, as he tries to help Adam. Director Lenny Abrahamson frames the characters on the edge of the city, recognizable as Dublin from the Poolbeg chimneys. In these brief scenes, Abrahamson’s economic direction establishes the film’s central relationship and their marginalized position.

Abrahamson frames Adam and Paul walking down a modern dual carriageway, Ireland’s boom time traffic moving quickly, the junkies walking slowly. Other façades of economic success, the Ulster Bank building and the James Joyce Bridge, figure in the backgrounds. They inhabit the same city as ordinary Dubliners, but everywhere they meet the same response: ‘Fuck off.’

Mark O’Halloran and Tom Murphy excel in their roles. Critics likened Adam and Paul to Laurel and Hardy and Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon. Paul’s chat in the café — ‘We’re havin’ loads of weather at the moment, aren’t we’ — echoes Ollie’s classic, ‘A lot of weather we’ve been having lately.’ Adam is the straight man of the double act. Like Estragon, Paul is physically smaller and preoccupied with his physical ailments: ‘I’m fucked,’ ‘I’m dying sick, like’, ‘Me fuckin’ hand and me fuckin’ leg and now me fuckin’ head.’ Their existence resembles that of Beckett’s pair. Paul asks Adam if they have a plan, the Bulgarian asks why they are here, and they refer to looking for the elusive ‘what’s-his-name’. But Adam and Paul have a purpose, and we know what drives them: they want a hit. The poignant last scene demonstrates Paul’s needs.

A Walk on the Wild Side 

The questions the film raises concern the apparent intolerance of other groups usually considered ‘marginalised’: single parents, the homeless, criminals, the working class. Friends may feel sympathy for Adam and Paul, offering cigarettes and alcohol, but, really, they want rid of them. They didn’t intend to inform them of a get-together to mark the passing of their friend Matthew, and Wayne later gives them some smokes before sending them on their way.

Adam and Paul are by no means pleasant. Adam tries to steal a handbag in a café. Paul attempts to break into a car stalled at lights. They try to rob a young man with Down syndrome and they contemplate stealing a TV from their old friend. Repeated failure, and Paul’s increasing physical discomfort, makes them somewhat sympathetic. O’Halloran’s script finds humour in a desperate situation. He also cleverly overcomes its episodic nature with the subplot involving Clank and delayed payoffs such as the Bulgarian jacket.

DOP James Mather’s work is excellent. Notable touches include the soft focus when Adam and Paul finally score, and shooting Janine almost in silhouette, as if she were a shadow of Adam and Paul’s past. Rennicks’ score is suitably understated, winding down to sombre solo piano towards the film’s end.

Adam & Paul achieves timelessness in taking heroin addicts as its central characters. Its understated treatment stands out among the glossy ‘cappuccino culture’ of other films. Problems Adam and Paul encountered would be just the same today. Economic fallout would make no difference to their plight. Just as the Celtic Tiger failed to raise Josie’s boat in Garage, Abrahamson’s second feature, current economic difficulties would make little difference to Adam and Paul.

John Moran



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