Senseless Barbarism – Knuckle (2011)

KnuckleI don’t even know where to start. When I began watching Knuckle, I thought it would be a pretty interesting look at how a bunch of Irish families spar with each other. That’s certainly what the documentary is about, but as it continued, I couldn’t help but be repulsed by the irrational violence on display. To make matters worse, while looking up the film after the fact, I came across the news that one of the main players was charged with, and admitted to, beating his wife to death in September, 2012. If you watch Knuckle (it’s currently streaming on Netflix), I bet you’ll come away with a damn good reason why.

“It’s gone down through the families. It’s tradition.”

Directed by Ian Palmer, Knuckle concerns itself with two warring families consumed – as far as I can tell – by endless violence in an attempt to one-up each other and claim superiority over everyone else who dares say otherwise. This is troubling enough, as I can’t for the life of me see how anything positive could ever come from this lifestyle, but what I found while researching the film makes me sit back and reflect even more.


The man pictured above is Michael Quinn McDonagh, and Knuckle opens with him training in a boxing ring, repeatedly punching away as a relative encourages him on. Soon after, Michael is shown in a bare-knuckle brawl with a member of the Joyce family. While the two families are related by blood, the feud has made them enemies beyond all reason. Another Quinn McDonagh, James, is prominently featured throughout, but Michael is all I can think about right now.

A year after Knuckle was released, Michael was charged with the murder of his wife, Jacqueline. The same man who was called a psychopath in the film apparently beat her to death in their own home and later turned himself in. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill anybody,” he said, but I’d say that statement was born wholly from hindsight. Since violence is all he’s ever known, it follows that he would use his fists to tear down any obstacle in his way. It just so happened that this time, the obstacle was his wife. Coming from a family hell-bent on pummeling their way through life, it’s quite frankly amazing that even more deaths haven’t occurred over the years. It’s disgusting, and it turns my stomach to watch these people try to justify their actions by claiming tradition or that the other side won’t let it go. It’s a bunch of bullshit, but whatever lets you sleep at night, right?


About halfway through, it became apparent that hardly any of the women were being shown at all. I made the guess inside my head that if they were, they’d want all the fighting to come to an end. Shortly after that thought, sure enough, the first woman spoke up.


Every woman who spoke on camera said they wanted it to stop, which is great. In these kinds of situations, women tend to have a much better grasp of reality, or at least how reality should be. None of that matters, though, if they sit around and do nothing while their asshole other halves beat themselves senseless out on a country road somewhere because, well…because fuck that other guy! I’m just frustrated that they weren’t able to affect any change before it resulted in a fatality, although, it could very well be the case that they never spoke up out of fear for their own lives. I have no idea. All I know is that the dynamics of this group of people are horrendously broken.

I was mostly raised by women, so I never had to deal with this macho bullshit growing up. As such, I don’t understand anything about the attitudes on display in Knuckle. These people think that the measure of a man comes from punching the shit out of someone until they either give up or lay unconscious, crumpled on the floor. Maybe they needed more of a feminine influence growing up, or maybe they were all destined to grow up unconscionable douches no matter what. It’s up in the air from where I’m sitting.

Either way, just imagine if the bulk of society behaved like the men in these clans do. I don’t even know if laws would be able to be upheld. Sure, they put on a facade of “fair play,” as they call it, when it comes to bare-knuckle brawls, but what does not biting or grappling really have to do with anything in the bigger picture? Nothing, that’s what. They can claim all day long that fighting it out is the safest solution to their problems, but when a culture of violence such as theirs continues to promote the swinging of fists as grievance counselors, it impacts people outside the so-called “fair play” arena as well as inside. Is one accidental murder-by-beat-down enough to herald change? Obviously not, or this whole thing would have stopped in ’92, when two family members were killed outside a bar in a scuffle. In my opinion, nothing short of locking every single one of them up will do a damn thing.

As a documentary, Knuckle is affecting and well-made. It elicits strong emotion, which is one of the benchmarks of good cinema, whether it be head-turning disgust or wild applause. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s the former. I think everyone should see it at least once, though, because its subject matter isn’t limited to the people on-screen. This kind of violence can be seen everywhere to varying degrees, and it’s a huge problem that holds us back as a species. Maybe one day, we’ll quit acting like the apes we are and start behaving more like the intelligent, compassionate human beings we all have the potential to become. That’s my hope, at least.


About Sir Phobos

Male, 30-something, hates stupid things and likes non-stupid things
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13 Responses to Senseless Barbarism – Knuckle (2011)

  1. kloipy says:

    This was an excellent and brilliantly written review man.

  2. Having grown up with a rather strict,discipline emphasizing mother i don’t think feminine always equal peaceful. personally my dad has always been the more level headed one in my family.

    Anyways, good review.

    • Sir Phobos says:

      I agree with you that feminine doesn’t necessarily equal peaceful, but on a larger scale, I do believe that women have a more even hand about things. You don’t have to answer this in a comments section on a blog, but was the strictness due to a religious view? I’d also add that being strict isn’t necessarily bad unless it’s abusive. In any case, I’m not saying that all men are belligerent dicks, but I think the world would definitely benefit from having more of a woman’s touch. It seemed like the women in the documentary weren’t on board with all the violence, but they just never spoke up. It turned out to be too late for one of them.

  3. I, for one, am glad you were raised by women and find this ape-shit offensive.

    • Sir Phobos says:

      Meeeeeee too. Words can only describe the way these people behave to a degree. It’s much worse to watch it. But like I said, it’s a great film despite what it’s showing. That’s the only thing I have respect for.

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  5. table9mutant says:

    Great review! This sounds repulsive. It would piss me off as well…

    • Sir Phobos says:

      Thanks! It depressed me more than it pissed me off, really, and it was a cumulative effect after I had watched a little more than an hour of it. But shit, I hope I’m not actually turning people off from watching it, because that wasn’t my intention. At least personally, I don’t mind watching stuff that challenges me. There are limits, though.

  6. Brendan says:

    Just watched the movie, was quite sickening and shocking but I couldn’t help but watch the whole thing haha I think both family’s are as bad as each other, and after looking up the movie I wasn’t too shocked to see Michael bashed his wife to death, feel sorry for her but why would you stay with someone like that any way?? I don’t get it lol, good movie any way

    • Sir Phobos says:

      Yea, they’re both garbage. I don’t know why she stayed, but I would guess it had something to do with her thinking the violence wouldn’t escalate beyond a certain point, and maybe feeling trapped or something? It’s hard to know without seeing more of the women in the film. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. Ian Palmer says:

    Impressed with your review of the film.

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