James Joyce’s Ulysses: The Film

Running commentary
by Ralph Dumain

November 3, 2018 at 1:10 AM

I’m half-way through the 1967 film Ulysses, based on James Joyce’s novel. At first, there’s not much of a narrative. Some suicide and funeral and some random stuff. But then the main narrative centers on Irish anti-Semitism. Some of the Irishmen have the habit of spitting when Leopold Bloom turns his back on them following an interaction. (If I wanted to see this, I could just pay a visit to South Buffalo.) Stephen Dedalus, however, is disgusted by these bigots, one of whom who is Mulligan, the other (a different person, I think) is his boss. Dedalus’ famous line ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken’ is a response to his boss’s anti-Semitism.

Shit hits the fan when Bloom is in a bar and an Irish anti-Semite harasses him. At first Bloom decries hate but that doesn’t work, and a violent eruption is a-brewing.

There are a number of magical realist touches in the film, as the narrative becomes disjointed by Bloom’s fantasies, which are mostly manifestations of his sexual obsessions. In addition, he suspects his wife is cheating on him.

There is a back-and-forth between Bloom walking through the whorehouse section of town while dreaming about other things. Then there is a bizarre courtroom scene where Bloom is the defendant for defiling various women, and is condemned to death.

But then Bloom’s fantasy switches to his utopia: The New Bloomusulem. Bloom mounts a podium and gives the Vulcan (originally Jewish) live-long-and-prosper hand sign, followed by some Jewish gibberish ‘Yom Kippur, B’nai Brith, meshuganah’. Then he gives the famous speech that ends in the phrase ‘free money, free love, and a free church in a free lay state.’ But unfortunately, the movie omits Joyce’s words ‘Esperanto the universal brotherhood’.

Bloom is played by Milo O’Shea, who has starred in many films, including the forgotten masterpiece The Adding Machine.

However, the anti-Bloomites strike back with invective about his undermining religion, etc.—Catholics, of course. That’s when I went to sleep. Resuming watching now: Dedalus walks down the street at night and is accosted by a group of louts egged on by one of their ho’s who falsely accuses him of something. Bloom comes along to try to get Dedalus out of there unharmed, but one of the louts punches him in the jaw and Dedalus goes down. The Irish stank ho is happy that men fought over her and the group departs. Two cops come along. Bloom makes up some cock-and-bull story about Dedalus having too much to drink, and the cops leave. Bloom and Dedalus walk down the street talking all kinds of stuff discovering what they have in common. Overall the Irish do not look like lovable people in Joyce’s eyes. I’ve never been there, and much has changed in a century, but there’s always South Buffalo. . .

Bloom invites Dedalus in. The subsequent scenes are narrated by voiceovers, presumably directly out of the novel, while we see the two interacting but we don’t hear their dialogue. Dedalus writes his name in the Greek alphabet, Bloom in the Hebrew, They go out in the garden to look up at the stars and pee. Joyce describes their peeing in full detail.

The last half hour is a voice over with flashbacks of Molly Bloom thinking in bed. She and Leopold haven’t been fucking for years and she is obviously sexually frustrated and thinking back on more romantic times. He’s in bed lying next to her but reversed so that his feel are next to her face. She’s thinking about confessing to a priest way back when and he kept pressing her for sexual details. She fantasizes about this handsome young man with a moustache and monster cock. At first I thought this was the priest, then I thought it may have been a young Bloom, then I don’t know who. But most of her sexual fantasies are about him and various statues, especially their genitalia. She grouses about men, the pleasures they get out of women’s bodies. She thinks—correctly or not I’m not sure but probably so—that Bloom was fucking several women, and she either cheated on him too or fantasized about doing it. Anyway, she’s really horny. And she thinks back to when Bloom was first courting her and really romantic and eager to shove his Jewish shlong into her Catholic Italian box. All of this is voiceover monologue from Joyce, ending in a scene where Bloom is shtupping her in a field while proposing to her and she ends with the famous line ‘yes I will yes I will yes.’ Everyone is fully clothed but this got me excited. Well, it was an interesting try, but the movie is completely disjointed, probably more disjointed than the novel I never read.

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Uploaded 13 November 2019

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