Whisky Galore

| May 16, 2017

During World War II, a small Scottish island village ran out of whisky.  Making peace with this reality, the residents went about their lives until fate brought a cargo ship too close to their shore, wrecking itself on some nearby rocks.  Among the ship’s cargo, 50,000 cases of whisky in route to New York City.  Upon hearing this, the residents take to their rowboats to raid the ship and restore drink to their little lives.  The raid goes against the orders of Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard; Ocean’s 13), who cannot abide the illegal activity of stealing the ship’s cargo even if it means the cargo sinks to the bottom of the ocean with the rest of the ship, so he and his men begin raiding saloons and people’s homes hoping to catch them with some of the stolen whisky and end the town’s insubordination.

Whisky Galore is a perfectly find and cute film.  The characters are all quaint and lively and feel like real people who you would want to meet and get to know and share a drink with.  It reminded me a lot of Waking Ned Devine, which is a similarly charming film where nothing catastrophically horrible needs to happen to keep the audience’s attention.  I guess my biggest hangup with this film is that it’s set during World War II, when people are fighting and dying, and Jewish people are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed simply for being Jewish, and instead of addressing those atrocities at all, we’re given a story about a town who believes the worst thing that could possibly happen is its running out of whisky.

Such is the absurdity of this idea, that when the bartender pours his final drop of whisky and announces that the town is officially dry, one of the patrons begins to walk home where he ultimately collapses on the steps dead from the thought of having no more to drink.  When the ship crashes carrying enough whisky to supply the town for years, no one batts an eye at rowing out to the ship to blatantly steal what is not theirs.  In fact, the only thing that prevents the first attempt at raiding the ship is the stroke of midnight bringing the sabbath, creating  town of characters who care more about the fourth commandment than the eighth and it becomes difficult for me to take the pious theme of the movie seriously when we’re touting one rule and ignoring another for purely selfish reasons.

This did make me wonder if the film was intended to be viewed as a satire of the hypocrisy of religion, where some people believe what they want about their chosen faith and disregard things that are inconvenient or difficult, justifying to themselves that breaking one commandment is okay because everyone is doing it.  While watching the movie through this lens did amplify my enjoyment of the story being told, I wholeheartedly believe that its purpose is to paint this town as culture-driven folk heroes the audience is meant to root for while vilifying the Wagget character.  Wagget is the hero of the story, or should be.  He is a man of principle, a moral compass for the town he’s stationed in, and yet everyone on this island acts like a petulant child trying to see how much they can get away with while their babysitter is turned the other way.  Not a single other person in the film, including the town’s priest, raises the moral dilemma of taking this whisky without making any attempt to pay for it or compensate the ship’s crew, who disappear shortly after arriving on shore.

Like I said, the film is really charming and cute and funny.  I like all of the characters and that they have clear motivations throughout the story.  However, the disregard for basic morality and the presentation of that disregard as a good thing make me very uncomfortable.

Playing now in select theaters.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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