Lost In Space With The Boy From Mercury
In any list of well known Irish films, it’s unfortunately rather unlikely that The Boy From Mercury would be an addition. Martin Duffy’s directorial debut was released in 1996, the same year that an another Irish film, Michael Collins, became the highest grossing film ever in Ireland. The Boy From Mercury, despite garnering critical acclaim, did rather poorly at the box office. Nonetheless, what it lacks in prominence it more than makes up for in charm and originality.
Set in 1960’s Dublin, The Boy From Mercury tells the story of Harry Cronin (James Hickey), a young boy who lives in his own imagination, a world where he is an alien, documenting aspects of human life. Although many of Harry’s fantasies are conveyed in a humorous way, there are underlying and sombre reasons for his escapism, using it as a means to cope with the grief he feels over his father’s death. Harry becomes more and more withdrawn into the imaginary world he has created for himself as the film progresses, with only his moody older brother, his eccentric uncle and his mother to help him out of it.
Even though first time directors are often intent on imposing their individuality onto their film, there is nothing obtrusive about Martin Duffy’s directorial style. It’s 1960’s setting feels authentic without being overdone, an interesting contrast being the backdrop of a staunchly catholicIrelandcoinciding with Harry’s make-believe world. The score by Stephen Mckeon is excellent and used aptly throughout the film and the effects, done in the days before CGI, haven’t dated. A rather chilling scene involving a statue of Jesus coming alive and opening his eyes is a fine example of this.
Despite it being a family film, Duffy doesn’t shy away from darker themes like death and the stronghold the catholic church had, or has, over education inIreland. In one of the film’s best scenes, Harry’s teacher, an ill tempered Christian Brother brilliantly played by Ian McElhinney, interrogates the students over a mysterious note that has been written, making each one of them stand up and swear on the cross that they didn’t write it with many of the boys looking genuinely terrified as they do so.
The film is also touching and poignant at times. When Harry visits his friend Sean’s house, we witness Sean’s family life through Harry’s envious eyes in a dreamlike sequence which despite it’s sadness manages to hold on to a hint of levity.
The Boy From Mercury is perhaps though, at it’s strongest when it comes to humour. Tom Courtenay stands out as Harry’s strange yet well meaning Uncle Tony who has a knack for getting well known sayings wrong such as “a problem shared is a problem for everybody,” and “laugh and the whole world laughs at ya.” The relationship between Harry and his brother Paul, played by the underrated Irish actor Hugh O’Conor, is not only realistic and moving without veering towards sentimentality, but also very funny. The scenes where Harry plays gooseberry to Paul and his girlfriend are particularly memorable.
For it’s charm, delicate direction and uniqueness, The Boy From Mercury does not deserve to fade into obscurity. Let’s hope that one day, it will rightfully be included in lists of notable Irish films.