Human Fiction

Action – Creation – Critique

Bon Cop Bad Cop: National Identity and the Economics of a National Pastime

The Canadian murder mystery, Bon Cop Bad Cop, proves that having two official languages in one country is no small feat. It’s not just two languages, but two cultures and two political systems that must try to work together, for better or worse. With all the trouble the different linguistic groups have understanding each other, they need the help of a national symbol to find common ground. In Canada, what better symbol to unite the people than hockey?

At the start of the film, hockey millionaires begin to disappear one by one on both sides of the Ontario/Quebec border. Neither side wants to take on the case, but since the first victim falls —literally— on the border, they have no choice but to figure it out together. The two main characters, one an English-speaking “Good Cop” (who respects the rules to a “T”) and the other a French-speaking “Bad Cop” (who does what he wants) are forced to find a way to get along.

In fact, it turns out, that their identity as Canadians is constructed as much as by what they are not as by what they are. That is, French-speakers and English speakers (and thus their respective policeman) join forces not because they want to, or like each other, but because they are forced to by a common enemy.

This aspect of the Canadian politics appears as a high value placed on modern national symbols by the state and citizens alike. For example, (and not totally unrelated to hockey) when the American company Burger King bought out Tim Horton’s, a Canadian fast-food chain, it had to agree to a few seemingly absurd conditions : they were asked to put the merged company headquarters in Canada, they cannot use the logos of both brands together, and they must work on the international expansion of Tim Hortons, as well as encourage franchisees “to keep the same number of employees.”1

These rules may appear strange to an outsider, but this fast-food chain, as trivial as it may seem, had been lifted to the level of a national symbol by its use as a backdrop by politicians and a common place to go after a hockey game. It had, in fact, been elevated to the level of a national institution. Also, as a purely Canadian business, it was a matter of pride in comparison with international companies. It’s no surprise that Canadian companies would feel at risk from competition from their southern neighbor, as American interests have a strong presence in Canada in a variety of industries, such as oil and manufacturing. To be autonomous as a business is a matter of standing up to American invaders, as Canadians have done since the War of 1812.

It is in this context of resisting American invasion that we find the story of Bon Cop, Bad Cop. It turns out to be the menace of Canadian Hockey players being sold to Americans that motivates the killer. Thus, the national pride of the killer, while appearing psychotic, actually proves a point. It reveals that hockey is one of the great symbols of Canada as a nation, and if it were to be bought out by Americans, it would lose its credibility as such, threatening as a result the very coherence and credibility of the Canadian state. A national symbol not only brings the nation together as a cultural force, but also has its economic roots in that same nation, adding to its wealth and power.

In the end, Bon Cop Bad Cop shows us that there is a lot more at stake than a simple misunderstanding between English and French-speakers in Canada. Rather, the relevance of Canada as a nation and state, its mere existence as a political entity, is put into question by their differences and maintained by their ability to collaborate. The film gives Canadians a chance to laugh about their own struggles as a nation, by poking fun at cultural differences and putting the defense of hockey as a national treasure in the voice of a psychotic serial killer. It also lets them imaging making their diversity and uniqueness work to their advantage. The two cops do manage to work together; at the crime lab, they both have trouble understanding the forensics expert (who speaks fast and whose theories aren’t necessarily scientifically sound). “Did you get what he said?” one says to the other. The other replies: “As long as we got the opposite halves, we’re okay.”

One critique that I have of the movie is its emphasis on the distinction and conflict between English-speakers and Quebecers, at the expense of the greater diversity in Canada. Of course, it sets up a simple, two-sided conflict that makes for good cinematic material. However, modern-day Canada includes many different cultural groups: English-speakers of various origins whose ancestors have arrived since the colonial times (from Europe, Africa, Asia, or the United States), First Nations and Métis communities, as well as more recent immigrants from all over the world. In order to construct political unity out of such diversity, national identity must transcend language and race, embrace multiculturalism, and also attach itself to new cultural symbols common to all people living within the nation’s borders, thus making phenomena like hockey and Tim Hortons all the more meaningful.

To finish on a linguistic note, for those not used to hearing Quebec French: subtitles are recommended! On the other hand, the movie is a handy lesson in all slang quebecois, especially the swear words. Oh, tabernacle! Or “C’est ma journée off, là!” My personal favorite is “bin fin,”* as in “Tu es bin fin,”*, meaning “You are very nice,” but which sounds like the phrase “very fine”, sounding oh-so-old-fashioned. All in all, Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a fun movie for those who like mysteries, action-adventure comedies, and Canada!

  1. “Canadian identity: Chomping Timbits”, The Economist, Print Edition, Ottawa, December 13, 2014. 

By Laura Deavers, on January 22, 2015. Top.

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