Beautiful Calvary about the Struggle to be Both Righteous, Human
- Thursday, July 31, 2014
Release Date: August 1, 2014
Rating: R (forsexual references, strong language, brief strong violence, and some drug use)
Run Time: 100 min
Directors: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, M. Emmet Walsh
When a religiously-themed film has no agenda towards either evangelism or secularism, it's amazing just how legitimately thought-provoking it can be. Calvary, about a week-in-the-life of a small town Irish priest (driven by a mystery that’s dramatically set in the opening scene), is a film that doesn’t have the conversion of its audience on its mind – either to or from Christianity. Rather, it’s an honest look at the cross a Catholic priest must carry in a world that’s hostile to his faith, and it’s a cross that includes the burden of a Church that bears some responsibility for that hostility.
Calvary seems like the kind of movie that Pope Francis might endorse because it's not inherently pro-Catholic but, rather, pro-authentic. It's more sympathetic to this priest than to the Church he represents – yet even while the pedophilia issue that has haunted Catholicism is a core undercurrent here, the film is respectful to the faith itself as it’s sincerely carried out by Father James (Brendan Gleeson, Harry Potter's Mad-Eye Moody), and even offers a fair – but not judgmental – critique of those who mock it.
The film opens on a single, uncut take of Father James listening to a confession – one that ends up being a declaration of vengeance, not contrition. After the confessor details how he was molested and violated by a Catholic priest, he threatens Father James (who's wholly innocent) with retaliation, believing it makes more of a statement to enact retribution on a blameless priest than it does on a guilty one. It's something the confessor (whose identity is kept from us) will carry out in a week's time, and the tension of that mystery drives the film's tone even as the narrative explores the priest's day-to-day life and relationship with the laity of this Irish seaside community (one of whom is the confessor).
Father James' response to the threat is spiritual, not legal. He doesn't report the confessor to the police, despite his bishop freeing James from the confidentiality of the confessional oath. In no way does James try to stop the inevitable confrontation; he simply prepares for it.
He does so rather meekly, and not even directly; just simply by going about his week as he normally would, engaging parishioners, neighbors and friends. These interactions and relationships make up the bulk of the story (as we guess who among them may be that confessor), and they reveal a society that is at best indifferent to the church but, more often than not, defiant towards it.
Father James does not force his counsel upon these people; they seek him out. But in short order, it's clear they're looking for something else other than spiritual growth. Some are just intent on provoking him. Others want to talk, even confess – but not truly repent. Or if they seek absolution, it's motivated by selfishness rather than humility. As one person so candidly puts it, "I feel like I ought to feel guilty." But of course he doesn't. Nobody does. They don't take their vows, sacraments, or faith seriously. The only Scriptures they know are the ones that proof-text their compromises, not the ones that challenge them. They flaunt their sin, open and unashamed, to which Father James observes, "There's a lot of that going around."
Recently on Movies
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content