Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Calvary [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RE.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Calvary [2014] (written and directed by John Michael McDonaugh), released in the United States three weeks past, is obviously a film that I took my time to see.  Despite quite good reviews, I dreaded seeing a film about a "'good priest' 'martyred' for the 'Sins of the Church.'"  It seemed like an unbearably pompous cliché.  It didn't help matters for me that I was told by a community member who doesn't go to the movies that if he did that THIS would be the movie that he'd go see.  With limited time -- I was about to go visit relatives overseas -- I chose to see the much lighter but certainly _not_ pointless, 100 Foot Journey [2014] instead.

... But over the past weekend, I was reminded by my dad to go see the current film anyway.  And for the credibility of my blog, I knew I had to.  And honestly was I surprised / impressed when I did.  By midway through the film, I was wondering if the Church, which, after all, has been forced in recent years to face terrible sexual scandals within its ranks, _even deserved_ such an eloquent defense of its work and mission as that presented in this film. 

In the film's opening scene, Fr. James (played by Brendan Gleeson), parish priest in a small coastal town near Sligo, Ireland, is hearing confessions on Sunday morning.  A "penitent" comes into the Confessional and declares to the priest "I was seven years old when I first tasted semen." (Extended Pause). "What do you have to say to that Father?"  (Pause as well). "Certainly a startling opening line," replies the priest.  Indeed.  The voice on the other side of the Confessional screen continues, telling the priest that he had been raped repeatedly, twice weekly, orally and anally, by a priest for four years, from age 7 to 11, until the priest presumably moved on to another parish.  He tells the priest that this was long ago and that the offending priest himself was now long dead.  What then to do?  The voice says that actually even if the offending priest was alive it would make little sense to kill him.  "What would that do, to kill a bad priest."  Instead, he tells Fr. James, that he's decided to kill a good priest, him. "THAT," he says, "will draw notice."   But he tells Fr. James that he's thought this through.  He wants to give Fr. James a week to "get his matters in order."  Still, he tells Fr. James to meet him THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY MORNING on the beach outside of town, where ... he would shoot the priest dead.

The rest of the film runs like a combination of High Noon [1952] and Graham Greene's celebrated novel The Power and the Glory, it counts down the days ...

What does Fr. James do with his final days?  WHAT HE'S ALWAYS DONE.  He administers the Sacraments.  He makes a number of pastoral calls.  There's a case of domestic violence that he has to deal with, an older recluse waiting for death who muses about suicide.  At the nearby hospital, he anoints the dying husband of a French tourist brought into this state as a result of a car accident.  He even visits a notorious if confused inmate at the local jail.  Fr. James' own life is a little more complicated than most as he entered the priesthood AFTER his wife had died.  So he has to also deal with the depression and listlessness of his twenty-something daughter.

So he goes about his work.  But there are also regular reminders of the Sentence that has been put on him by the anonymous "penitent" who he had encountered in the Confessional.  On Wednesday, the Church suddenly burns down.  A day or two later, Fr. James finds his beloved dog with his throat slit ...

Saturday comes, and Fr. James' associate, a younger priest "skips town" upset after an argument with Fr. James the previous ngiht.  Besides, he notes, "There's no Church (building) anymore ..."

Fr. James?  Though he toys with the idea of "skipping town" as well ... (not much of a spoiler alert), he, of course, DECIDES TO STAY.  Sunday comes ... mid morning comes ... Fr. James picks himself up and heads off to the lonely, rocky beach ...

In my college years, I remember remarking out-loud, when the celebrated and quite "scandalous" for the time Thorn Birds [1983] miniseries was playing: "Why do they only make films about priests that do terrible, scandalous thngs?  Why don't they make a movie about a priest simply doing 'priestly things'?"  One of my then similarly college-aged room-mates laughed: "Not THAT would be one boring movie." ;-)

Now as _this film_ progressed, I realized, yes somewhat awestruck, that THIS WAS THE FILM THAT I HAD BEEN ASKING FOR back then.

Honestly, WHAT A FILM!  And even if it _is_ clouded over by the Sin of the sexual abuse scandals of the recent years, HOW ELSE COULD A FILM ABOUT THE PRIESTHOOD BE MADE TODAY?

And yet, honestly, what a beautiful portrayal of the SIMPLE and HOLY work of this HUMBLE village priest for the sake of often difficult, uncomprehending perhaps even "ungrateful" people (but how could one be grateful/ungrateful for something one does not understand?).  And yet not without total incomprehension.  The French (!) widow (talk about a modern "Samaritan or Syrophoenecian Woman" of our time) of the tourist killed in the car accident understood.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  (John 6:67-68)

Excellent, excellent film!

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