Struggling With Liam Neeson

Photo by Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons

The Event

For those of you who somehow missed it:

  • In a press event leading up to its release Neeson, attempting to highlight the pointlessness of this kind of pursuit, told a personal story of a time he went out blindly pursuing vengeance. He, fortunately, caught himself before he acted on that pursuit, sought out guidance from his spiritual advisor, and learned to be a better man. At least, that’s the story he was trying to tell. The details, however, told a second story.
  • When he returned from an out-of-town trip, a woman close to him confided she had been raped. He demanded to know who — a description — something that would let him pursue the matter. Of his many questions about the person’s identity and appearance, the one he got an answer to was “what race is he?” He was black, she told him. So the actor went about town for a few weeks looking for a black man to assault in return.
  • Not surprisingly, there was quite a strong reaction to the admission that he set out to commit a racist crime, and only good fortune prevented him from having the opportunity to hurt an innocent man before he came to his senses.
  • At first, he seemed to feel he could explain, and help people understand that he’s not a racist, and he was talking about why this kind of revenge is a bad thing. Somewhere along the line, he realized that this kind of explaining was not going to make anything better. He hired a good publicist and followed their advice — a simple press-release statement, no interviews, and he went dark for a bit to get his name off the front pages.

The Aftermath

I felt a lot of empathy for the guy during all that. A man in his 60s, not even from the US, who grew up in a time and place where unreasoned hatred was grounded not in skin color but in religious sectarianism — I can completely see how he did not think he was talking about “race” but was offering a very personal lesson in why the kind of revenge depicted in his movie solves nothing.

A Little Later

I was struck by Trevor Noah’s take on “the whole Liam Neeson thing.”

A Lot Later

I set the matter aside. The important topics were being discussed, and whatever else was bothering me wasn’t significant enough to try to divert that. The conversation raged, then gave way to more recent news and fresher outrages. Once the noise level died down, that quiet voice in the back of my head became audible.

Liam’s Story

He came back from out of town, heard his friend’s story, and immediately set out to “avenge her honor.”

The Other Story

Since Neeson chose not to identify the woman, most reports simply call her his “friend.” But his description (her asking him about his nightly walks, for example) suggests they were, at the least, housemates.

Setting It Aside

I felt a lot better, once I had nailed what was bothering me. I hope that young lady received appropriate support from somewhere. I can even forgive my favored actor for being so awful to someone who needed his support — not because it’s OK, but because it’s not really about him. Every day, women are raped. And every day, friends and family members who should support them through such a horrible time focus instead on their own feelings, without seeing how their response makes it worse for the real victim. If those of us who have been raped weren’t able to forgive people for that, 20% of the world’s women would be left with no friends or family.

The Intersection

I had identified what was bugging me, brought it into the light, and was done with it. Or so I thought. But there was one more realization awaiting me.

This article was originally published at

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2 thoughts on “Struggling With Liam Neeson

    1. Until very recently, rape was not classified as a violent crime against the victim. Rather, it was a property crime against the man who “owned” her – the unauthorized use of his property reduced its value in the marketplace, and the ability of another man to damage his property without consequence was an affront the honor of the injured man.

      Wreaking vengeance did nothing to restore the honor of the *woman – rather, it restored the honor of the *man to show that he was capable of dealing with those who took what belonged to him.

      The ‘use” of the woman, like mileage on a car, could not be reversed – rather, the owner could exact a cost/demand compensation for the unauthorized wear and tear on his property, which had reduced its sale value/usable life.

      Vengeance, therefore, is not about the woman in any way. It is wholly an expression of ownership, and an affirmation that the *owner, not the property, was wronged and harmed by this act.

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