There's an old saying that goes like this: "We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are." No one is quite sure of its origin, but I've always liked the concept and applied it to my appreciation and study of travel.
When we vacation in Europe, for example, do we want to see the destinations we're visiting as they really are -- with locals rushing around with cellphones glued to their ears, hipster cafes and other hallmarks of contemporary life? Or are we really chasing our fantasies of Old World Europe -- preferably medieval, but Renaissance will do in a pinch -- with turreted castles, thatched-roofed cottages and rolling hills dotted with sheep?
This is the conundrum around the new movie "Wild Mountain Thyme," which has already ruffled feathers in Ireland even though the film isn't due out in theaters and on-demand until Dec. 11.
At issue, at least on the surface, is the apparently dubious quality of the Irish accents adopted by the actors in the film -- Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken -- which is odd, given that the male lead, Jamie Dornan, is actually Irish (judge for yourself by watching the trailer here.)
A deeper discussion is swirling around the movie's depiction of an Ireland that no longer exists, if it ever did, complete with just about every stereotype you've ever heard about the country and its people -- locals, apparently unfamiliar with the combustion engine, getting around on horseback; bonny, redheaded lasses traipsing around in muddy boots; and everyone singing traditional, mournful tunes in low-ceilinged pubs. And of course, constant, drenching rain. All this, some reviewers grouse, smacks of condescension.
With due respect, though, I would argue that the film is a romantic fantasy likely to please American audiences, who stubbornly cling to the notion of Ireland as they want it to be. Whether or not that's OK is a topic far too complex for this column, but it's worth pointing out that depicting European cultural characteristics with broad strokes isn't unique to Ireland or this film (ask any French person what he or she thinks of the Netflix hit "Emily in Paris," for example, and you'll likely get an earful.)
As to whether the movie is realistic, well, neither was "Game of Thrones" (GOT), whose shooting locations in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in Europe translated into big tourism dollars for those destinations.
Admittedly, that comparison isn't really fair, since "Wild Mountain Thyme" is set in and is about Ireland, whereas the GOT storyline takes place in an alternate universe. And the insanely successful "Frozen" franchise, which sparked literally more tourism than Norway could handle, was an animated film about places that don't exist in real life and never did.
Another way to look at the controversy would be to simply congratulate Ireland on being so over-the-top beautiful that filmmakers can't stay away. And those green rolling hills -- for the record, in parts of the country they most definitely do still exist -- spark feelings of romance and nostalgia in the hearts of many Americans, who feel a visceral and enduring emotional connection to the destination.
In a normal, non-pandemic year, the film's lush location scenes in County Mayo would be enough to stir the wanderlust in many of us, who could use a dose of that Old World charm right about now, but thanks to the magic of online streaming, that could still eventually happen.
Besides, it's not as if they hit every cliche. The film runs 1 hour and 42 minutes, and in all that time there's not a leprechaun in sight.