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Calvary (2014)

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Oh. And what about the dead dog? The ultimate revelation on this point certainly plays as if we're meant to take Fr. James' antagonist at his word. So what happened there?

 

According to Paul Wilkins:

 

Pat the publican killed the Bruno. Evidence for this can be seen just before the bar fight where his hand holding the baseball bat handle can be seen to have a skin-coloured self-adhesive bandage on it, which is also be seen in the montage at the end of the movie when he takes a drink.

 

Pat’s business is being foreclosed on by the bank, but neither the church nor the priest has done much about the sin of usury. As the publican says, “when you have a history of screwing the jews out of their money, and collaborating with the nazis, it’s like the pot calling the kettle black.” Even after someone else burns the church, that’s not enough for the publican. That which is nearest and dearest to the publican is being taken away from him, and as such he takes away from the priest something that’s near and dear to him too.

 

Edited by Benchwarmer

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I just discovered that this movie has already left the Vancouver area. Sigh.

Peter, I felt the same disappointment, then saw that it's still playing at the Pickford Limelight Cinema in Bellingham for this week.

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SPOILERS for both CALVARY AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY

 

As divine providence would have it, I watched this film this weekend, only a week after reading “The Power and the Glory” for the first time. I was deeply affected by each individually, but together they packed a one-two punch to serious theological questions I’ve been working through. 

 

Back in July, I visited Oxford, UK, for a conference. While I was there, I attended solemn mass at The Oratory (location numero uno for John Henry Newman aficionados). During the homily, the priest, reflecting on the 20-year anniversary of another priest serving at the Oratory, remarked that without the priesthood, Christ isn’t brought amongst the people.

 

I have been interfacing with Catholicism for a couple of years and over that period many objections to the faith have been removed for me. However, one of the most prominent remaining points of difficulty for me has been this concept of the priest as the embodied representative of Christ in the world. 

 

Having spent the first two decades of my life with the broadly protestant conception of the universal “priesthood of the believer”, in which the ecclesial priesthood is effectively defunct in the kingdom of Christ, the concept of the priest-as-mediator has been a very difficult pill for me to swallow. This is probably compounded by the fact that at times I have witnessed devastating failures of pastoral leadership, particularly in my journey through Evangelicalism. The homily in the Oratory really bugged me, and had been nagging at my subconscious up to the point that I read and watched the aforementioned works. 

 

All I can say is that “The Power and the Glory” planted a seed in my mind, and “Calvary” fertilized it. Both the whisky priest and Fr. James are deeply flawed, multi-dimensional people, and yet there is some sort of mystical, inexplicable drive in them to return, against their own self-preservation, to be Christ to the people, and ultimately to offer themselves up. There is this sense that if the Whisky Priest had left the State and fled to safety, or if Fr. James had gone to Dublin instead of to meet his killer, Christ—the sacrificial lamb giving of himself for the sake of broken people—truly would have been withheld. 

 

In the ensuing discussion after the film, one of my party responded to that idea by saying that like Fr. James, all Christians can be that example of Christ’s sacrifice for the sake of others. And yet I am struck by the concept that priests are those who set the precedent; they are the embodied examples of the high priest, Jesus, and by providing the presence of Christ in the eucharist and through the sacraments, the people truly are able to live as those who are the priesthood of the believer. This believer-priesthood doesn’t have to be a detached concept suspended in abstract; it can be as if connected to the vine, through the narrative of the church, or more specifically, through the repeated story of the sacraments. 

 

I can’t say that I have completely made amends to my theological misgivings, but as with past issues, I can feel the growing sense of peace and understanding, and I find myself surprised and grateful for the imperfect—perhaps even unintended—conduits of the message of the gospel, McDonagh and Gleeson.

Edited by Joel C

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I should have my review up in a couple days.

 

 

 

Did you ever post a review, Jeremy?

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It's written.  I then gave it a rewrite and was still left feeling quite unsatisfied with it, so it's not up at Filmwell yet.

 

But now that you've reminded me, I'll see if I can finish a last edit this week since I've been meaning to do that for over a month now.  Timeliness is still something I need to discipline myself with.

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No pressure. I just posted a film-forum style review roundup and didn't want to miss yours if it was published somewhere I hadn't checked. I'll go back and add it when it's available.

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I'm not getting the immense love for this film.  Sure, it has some fine craftsmanship and smart dialogue.  However, the ham-fisted black-and-white characterizations (especially, of course, of the two main godless folks) and the implausibly bleak portrayal of human nature and relationships are grievous flaws.  In a chat on Facebook a while back, Ken and I bantered about comparing this film to God's Not Dead.  The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to believe that these two flaws make this comparison apt and relevant, even if Calvary contains a fine performance by Gleeson and genuine artfulness, while lacking the irredeemable vileness of GND.

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I'm not getting the immense love for this film.  Sure, it has some fine craftsmanship and smart dialogue.  

 

I was originally at 2 1/2 stars (out of four), but Alissa nudged me to think about changing it to three. (Not her fault--she totally said it was up to me and I believed her.) Part of me gets what she was saying, that I was acknowledging it was better than some films that CT had rated 3 stars, etc.) but I will say that the film hasn't worn well for me.

 

Incidentally, it was refreshing for me to have Kickasola acknowledge in the quote in Jeff's round up that the artistry/craftsmanship was average at best and problematic in spots. This film could be an exhibit in my thoughts about "Christian" films and how Christian critics (all critics but Christians especially) seem to me to make/announce craftsmanship judgments but rarely take the time to carve out actual formal analysis. I was really, really bothered by the slow-mo at the end of the film and the way it sure seemed to me to romanticize the ability to depict the violence in cinematic language when the whole movie was about the differences between *actual* violence and the ways we think about it.

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I'm not getting the immense love for this film.  

 

I suspect that what you're seeing is more about an immense love for a character. Or rather, a love for an immense character. Many of the positive reviews I've read talk about flaws in the film. And I mentioned weaknesses in my own words about it at my blog. But the fact is, this character and his decisions have stayed with me. 

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I suspect there is a little relative to the genre overcompensation at play. A subset of critics who despise "Christian" themed movies so much that there is relief finding something that--finally--they can say something good about.

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I'm not getting the immense love for this film.

 

I suspect that what you're seeing is more about an immense love for a character. Or rather, a love for an immense character. Many of the positive reviews I've read talk about flaws in the film. And I mentioned weaknesses in my own words about it at my blog. But the fact is, this character and his decisions have stayed with me.

 

This. (Love that play on "immense" in the first two sentences, Jeff!) 

 

While the improbably perverse characters are a problem, I think they can be seen as Grünewald-like or Hieronymus Bosch-like grotesques in paintings of the mocking of Christ, intended to heighten the moral drama of the protagonist's sufferings and the stakes of his sacrificial act.

hieronymus-bosch-salita-al-calvario.png

If Father James's flock are so jaded that even the torching of the church didn't elict a moral awakening, will the murder of a good priest (on a Sunday, good joke) have any more of an effect? Maybe, maybe not. The lack of closure at the denouement can be read as an implicit challenge to the viewer: To what extent are we implicated in the crowd's complacent jeering? What do we need to wake up to?

 

I suspect there is a little relative to the genre overcompensation at play. A subset of critics who despise "Christian" themed movies so much that there is relief finding something that--finally--they can say something good about.

That could be true, but I think Fr. James fairly earns the enthusiasm of the film's fans. Could one put together a list of the top 10 clerical heroes in all of cinema without including him? Or even a top 5? Even if it's possible, he's certainly a credible contender. 

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I'm not getting the immense love for this film.  Sure, it has some fine craftsmanship and smart dialogue.  However, the ham-fisted black-and-white characterizations (especially, of course, of the two main godless folks) and the implausibly bleak portrayal of human nature and relationships are grievous flaws.  In a chat on Facebook a while back, Ken and I bantered about comparing this film to God's Not Dead.  The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to believe that these two flaws make this comparison apt and relevant, even if Calvary contains a fine performance by Gleeson and genuine artfulness, while lacking the irredeemable vileness of GND.

Just raising my hand. I'm not exactly negative on the film, but I expressed my concerns about the movie earlier in this thread, before the onslaught of praise from others in these quarters. I stand by my concerns.

 

 

 

I didn't feel like I understood the structure of Calvary's story and wonder if it's a Catholic thing. A week leading to a man's death. A movie called Calvary. How closely, if at all, is the story supposed to correspond to the final week of Jesus' life, and do I need to be aware of specifically Catholic emphases re: "Holy Week" to appreciate what's going on in Calvary?

 

Perhaps the parallels are obvious to others, but my answer while watching the film to my own question about how much correspondence there might be was, "not much at all."

 

But not understanding the conceit is OK with me. I'm more concerned about the film's structure; it sort of meanders, doesn't it? Was there supposed to be a sense of building suspense? If so, I didn't feel it, although I was curious to know who the assailant might be. But the film felt long to me, and I think that's because it hums along in pretty much the same gear throughout, until its final moments.

 

I'd also quibble with Ken's contention that "everyone else is a caricature, existing only to be a suspect or a temptation." I'd say the daughter is an exception. I liked the actress and her role, although I wish it had been expanded. I wanted to spend more time with her and learn what was troubling her, rather than experiencing the parade of bizarre, if sometimes amusingly so, characters that pepper this movie.

 

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Ken, I wasn't bothered by the slo-mo at the end; for me, it underscored the horror and tragedy we were watching, if in a rather cinematically conventional manner. 

 

SDG, I've internally speculated in a parallel fashion whether the caricatures should be considered along the lines of the unidimensionality of a morality play or Pilgrim's Progress.  But as I mentioned in my review, the writers seemed crazily torn about how to portray everyone but Gleeson's and Reilly's characters.  For the first third of the film, it's Local Hero 2.0.  For the middle third, it's God's Not Dead Goes to Ireland.  And for the final bit, the characters gain some nuance.  Taken as a sum, that's just sloppy.

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Does anyone have any idea about the McDonaghs' religious inclinations? I've read a number of interviews but nothing that offers much clarity on this point.

 

SDG, I've internally speculated in a parallel fashion whether the caricatures should be considered along the lines of the unidimensionality of a morality play or Pilgrim's Progress. But as I mentioned in my review, the writers seemed crazily torn about how to portray everyone but Gleeson's and Reilly's characters. For the first third of the film, it's [Local Hero 2.0. For the middle third, it's God's Not Dead Goes to Ireland. And for the final bit, the characters gain some nuance. Taken as a sum, that's just sloppy.

  
I can respect that thinking, Andrew, though I don't find it particularly persuasive.

As I see it, the godless characters in God's Not Dead exist to highlight the complete and glorious triumph of Christian TRVTH against all opposition, and the complete bankruptcy and barrenness of being on The Wrong Path. The godless characters in Calvary highlight the apparent uselessness and irrelevance of Fr. James's attempts to discharge his ministry and the loneliness and antagonism he suffers trying to do so.

IOW, the point of the godless characters in God's Not Dead is "Don't be like Goofus, be like Gallant!" The point of the godless characters in Calvary is "In a world in which Goofus has triumphed, what does it even mean to be Gallant? Can one do so at all? Does it make sense?"

Edited by SDG

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I met the writer/director and asked about religion in this movie and in a previous movie of his, but I don't think I specifically asked about his own faith. I was assuming he's Catholic, but now that I think of it, I'm not sure I ever confirmed that.

 

UPDATE: A friend who was at that event agrees that McDonagh didn't state his faith.

Edited by Christian

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IOW, the point of the godless characters in God's Not Dead is "Don't be like Goofus, be like Gallant!" The point of the godless characters in Calvary is "In a world in which Goofus has triumphed, what does it even mean to be Gallant? Can one do so at all? Does it make sense?"

 

I guess my thoughts in looking at the parallel are to ask how much, if at all, does the picture of the world represented in either film conform to the elusive "real" world...the ontological world that actually exists. It is easy enough for some to point the finger at GND and say, "that's not the real world, that's a distorted fantasy world" but there are just as many (if not more) viewers who apparently take GND as an accurate portrait of the real world. And I'm pretty confident (having now met the writers) that it was meant as such. 

 

I don't see as many viewers/critics looking at Calvary and saying that the way it asks its questions is by doing so in the context of an exaggerated (mis)representation of the world we live in. One in which our representative is truly good and persecuted for his goodness and the evils on our side are never personal, intentional, or cruel, only institutions, more or less depersonalized and abstracted. Yes, our priest does, finally, admit he was complicit in the abuses of the church by being more or less indifferent to them (line was something like "I haven't thought about it much") but I haven't seen much, particularly in the praises for the film, acknowledging that point. 

I would probably concede without too much arm twisting that Calvary's world is closer to the world I think actually exists, but I do think there are elements of triumphalist, tribal fantasy in it. And that some Christians love it all the more than GND not because it is saying something [that much] different (or even opposed to) the former film but because it is saying it better. (More artsy like.) 

 

They both (to me) appear to be saying that if the world hates you it is because they know deep down that you are better than they are, and that nobody is truly indifferent to God (or Christians). People who claim to not believe are basically monsters who live only to torment you (or as a warning into what you could become if you stray from the path.) That we are basically good people who get misrepresented by a few bad apples and punished by atheists for stuff we didn't do because they are too f---ed up to work through their own problems, turn them over to God, or not let their hatred of God keep them from consuming them to the point where they don't just indiscriminately lash out at all (even/especially) the best Christians, mostly out of spite or, admittedly pain.

 

Are there seeds of truth in that portrait of the world. Sure. But are those seeds of truth being carefully and objectively presented, or are they being looked at through some of the same tribally tinted glasses that GND is being watched? 

Edited by kenmorefield

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Ken, I would question whether there are any substantial seeds of truth to be found in the penultimate paragraph of your last post.  Teensy mustard seeds, perhaps.  But overall, those are grossly unfair generalizations about unbelievers.

 

I am glad that you brought up the point you did in the second paragraph about Father James' complicity in the clergy pedophile scandal.  I certainly alluded to this in my own review, but I now wonder if I'm in the minority here in that respect.  It's easy to lose sight of the reality that the crisis of faith in Ireland is largely one of the RC Church's own making.  In other words, large numbers of Irish common folk have turned their back on the church because of the RC's abominable conduct there and subsequent attempts to evade responsibility in at least 3 key areas:  1) the documented sexual abuse of 10's of 1000's of children; 2) the abuses in the Magdalene laundries; and 3) their overall abuse of political power in 20th Century Ireland by their too cozy relationship with secular holders of power.  For individual priests to be permitted scott-free to play the victim/martyr card here demonstrates significant historical amnesia and minimizes the pain of the real historical victims. 

 

The more I reflect on this, the more it places the film Calvary in murkier and murkier moral territory, say what one might about Father James' individual character.  How would we feel about a film about a former officer in Pinochet's service, who didn't personally make anyone disappear and now tries to be nice to his neighbors, who now laments that he gets no respect in Chilean society?   

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I sense that discussion of this film here at A&F may be about to explode. smile.png

Edited by Christian

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I hope not - I'm good with it; hopefully, everyone else is.  Plus, I think these are important matters to consider, both in terms of the artistic merit of the film in question, as well as the larger cultural/religious issues surrounding it.

Edited by Andrew

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Andrew wrote:
: How would we feel about a film about a former officer in Pinochet's service, who didn't personally make anyone disappear and now tries to be nice to his neighbors, who now laments that he gets no respect in Chilean society? 

 

Interesting...

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The more I reflect on this, the more it places the film Calvary in murkier and murkier moral territory, say what one might about Father James' individual character.  How would we feel about a film about a former officer in Pinochet's service, who didn't personally make anyone disappear and now tries to be nice to his neighbors, who now laments that he gets no respect in Chilean society?   

 

But that minimizes what is, in my opinion, the single most important moment of the film: When the priest says that he felt "detached" in regards to stories of child abuse. This film is not about "Oh, why are people being so tough on priests, they're not all bad." It's not even about "Here, priesthood, is what a priest should be." No... that moment highlights that, for all of his goodness, for all of his emphasis on forgiveness, he is part of the problem in his willingness to do little more than grimace and turn the page when it comes to the atrocity perpetuated by his brethren.

 

What follows is also an egregious abuse of power, but I do not think we're meant to see the priest as a martyr or a victim in this story. I think that the film is a tragedy in that it is about the failure on all sides. By building up his character as a "good priest," McDonagh is only ramping up the tension for the moment when we realize that no, this is not a story about a good man among bad people... this is about the damage done when "good people" do not speak out, do not act, but only sigh and wring their hands and then move on, when it fact they now bear some responsibility to testify to the truth. Until he responds to the disease of denial, he is not treating the problem that is most powerful in deepening cynicism about the church.

 

That's what I love most about this film.

 

The final frame of the film is not about the responsibility for one side to forgive the other, but about the need for a spirit of forgiveness all around.

Edited by Overstreet

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Does anyone have any idea about the McDonaghs' religious inclinations? I've read a number of interviews but nothing that offers much clarity on this point.

Can I reiterate this question? Anyone have any help here? Thanks.

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Does anyone have any idea about the McDonaghs' religious inclinations? I've read a number of interviews but nothing that offers much clarity on this point.

Can I reiterate this question? Anyone have any help here? Thanks.

 

 

Sorry. I got nothin'. You might ask Gareth Higgins, Steven. He's so passionate about this film, he may know something. (I think he called Calvary "film of the decade" or something.)

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