Language · Word of the week

Word of the week: conflicted

“Conflicted” was really my Word of the Year for 2012, the year that “The Iron Lady” was released in the UK. It features Meryl Streep’s Oscar-wining performance as Margaret Thatcher. I am a fan of Meryl Streep but was resolutely not a fan of Margaret Thatcher. I had to see the movie, like every other major Oscar-winner of my lifetime, because of my Oscars project. But I felt conflicted about it: there was someone I admired playing the part of someone I did not admire.

I had similar feelings that year when I read “Young Adolf” by Beryl Bainbridge, over 30 years after it was published. Oddly, the storyline featured in a “Have I Got News for You” question around then, as if the news had only just emerged that Hitler had probably spent some time in pre-World War One Liverpool, visiting his half-sister. The book, speculating about what might have happened, came out in 1980. I was conflicted because, as you are supposed to with most protagonists, I was feeling some sympathy for the title character. I had to keep reminding myself “Don’t feel too much sympathy: it’s Adolf Hitler, for God’s sake”.

Nicola Sturgeon used the word conflicted on “Desert Island Discs” last month, when asked about the recent 7-page spread in Vogue magazine. It’s in this download (around 26 minutes 17 seconds in).

And the phrase “Yeah, but I was conflicted about it” echoed through my mind for most of 2012, and still does. It’s what Robert de Niro’s character (a gangster) says to Billy Crystal’s character (a psychiatrist) towards the end of “Analyze This”. The psychiatrist has been helping the gangster with his “issues” – like panic attacks, rage and having people murdered. But as the movie progresses the gangster starts to mistrust the psychiatrist and tries to have him killed (before it’s all resolved in a happy ending). “You tried to kill me!” shouts the psychiatrist. “Yeah, but I was conflicted about it,” says the gangster. I love that line.

 

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