Sigh, Liam Neeson has been one of my favorite actors for many years, and reading your essay deeply saddens me — for a number of reasons. I agree with some, possibly even most, of the substantive points that you make in your essay about racism. Without doubt, the feelings he freely and regretfully acknowledges in the interview were racist and a low point in a life that we have many reasons to admire.
I suggest that you go back to the interview; listen to it a little more carefully. The strongly felt fantasy, that he describes, of wanting to take violent revenge for the wrong done to a friend builds to a climax which you choose to ignore: he says “It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that.” His tone when he tells the story is grave, pondering, and full of regret.
I know he’s a good actor, but why not believe him? If his motives were merely to promote his film, as you suggest, then he could have done a much better job of it. And he would have appealed to a lot more people. I found his account largely believable, especially for a man who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Listen, by way of contrast, to your own tone in this Medium piece: angry, self righteous, unforgiving and unrelenting. When you tell Neeson “Every time you open your racist mouth more ignorance spews forth” you lose my support. Your comment is nasty and vindictive hyperbole. Nothing more and nothing less.
Calling him an ‘asshole’ is simply abusive name-calling. Nothing more and nothing less.
Saying that at the time of the rape attack Neeson blamed all Blacks for a crime apparently committed by one Black is clearly correct, but why do you think Neeson would not now agree with you? He did not claim his motivation at the time was rational.
I find it pretty hard to forgive the sexism in your joking remark that since his “friend was raped by a man. That means any human with a penis would have been a sufficient target for [his] vigilantism.” What the ‘limp dick’ that you then mention might have to do with this discussion I leave it to you to explain.
And for God’s sake, the sentiments he describes feeling forty years before, he never actually acted upon, any more than you actually hit Neeson “over the snout” with a folded up newspaper, which is in some ways the perfect woman’s equivalent of a man’s cosh (whatever that is) in the back pocket.
I completely agree with him that revenge is indeed a primal instinct that civilized men (and women!) must learn to overcome. When a wallaby ate my roses I wanted to hit him over the snout, and I did chase him away from the garden. In truth I love having wallabies in the garden as much as roses.
People are complicated. But apparently you are, or at least have become, one of those people, so commonly found on the right, and on the left, who think that one is either a good guy or a bad guy. Nothing in between and no allowance for any possibility of change over 40 years!
I wonder if you have any idea of how transparently inconsistent, how capricious and self-contradictory, is your advice to Neeson. On the one hand you tell him “spare us your personal journey,” then you say “first-person narratives only.”
You accuse Neeson of “publicly telling the story of someone else’s ‘brutal’ rape”, then, you excoriate him without mercy for failing to give “any mention whatsoever” of the rape survivor’s story.
I think I know why you did not provide a link to the original interview. You did not want your readers to see the context of his confession, which was an interview with him precisely about a movie in which he plays a vigilante. One of the ways many actors get inside their characters, is to look deeply within themselves for a relevant incident that reflects their own experience. Neeson did this by recalling his own reaction to a friend’s rape.
Nothing in the interview called for a detailed discussion of his friend’s rape. Yet you insist that he should be providing this. For example,
“this week that you spent wandering the streets with *your* world turned upside down? Who was taking care of your friend? Who took her to the hospital? Who sat with her during the police interview? Who stayed over at her house so she could sleep without fear?”
The answer provided in his interview: he was not in the country and did not learn of the rape till he got home.
Why did he not tell more of her story?
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to coin a phrase, it wasn’t relevant to the interview and he was trying to protect her identity.
Wikipedia presents a summary of his life’s political actions and social commitments that some readers may not have known about. Like you, I’ve hated the vigilantism and revenge motifs that dominate the second half of his acting career. And I suspect that, by that time, he was rich enough and talented enough to have chosen other roles instead. He’s no hero.
But surely, he is also not the total ogre you make him out to be.
I may be wrong about him. I doubt if I know as much about him as you seem to think you know.
In many ways, the most important part of your essay is your summary of five conclusions at the very end.
Here is my recap:
- Points 1 and 2, I agree with and, more importantly, I suggest, so would Neeson. And I further suggest that these two points constitute a major reason why he told his story in the first place.
- Your point 3 was “Your friend’s rape is not your ‘learning curve’ ”. I would argue the exact opposite: we, all of us, should, rather must, learn from tragedy, from error in deed and in belief, from one’s own lives and from other people’s.
- Points 4 and 5, I agree with D. Andre’s comment in your responses. “He wasn’t advocating for vigilante violence, he was actually attempting to illustrate how he’d learned from it and how it was a pointless time in his life. Whether he succeeded is up for debate, but using his platform to discuss issues that affect society is certainly not wrong.”
- Below is a link to the interview in question. I invite readers to judge the matter for themselves.
Liam Neeson interview: Rape, race and how I learnt revenge doesn't work
Liam Neeson is sitting in an armchair with a flask of tea at his side. We are in the sprawling suite of a Manhattan…
If you don’t have time to check out this link to the interview, I leave you with these word of Neeson:
“I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that. All this stuff that’s happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that, you know. But that primal need, I understand.”