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J.A.A. Purves

Calvary (2014)

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Spoilers below:

I think the comparison between Calvary and God’s Not Dead is a worthwhile comparison.  It’s worthwhile because I think the intentions of the film makers in both films were very different, and the contrast between the two is worth paying attention to.

The nonbeliever antagonist in God’s Not Dead is a jerk.  He is irrational, rather dumb and often cruel.  Moreover, he is supposed to be an educated philosophy professor.  But he can’t teach philosophy competently, loses a classroom debate to a kid, admits that he hates the God he doesn’t believe in irrationally in an angry and embarrassing rant, and then is killed (by divine judgement?) and humiliated.  The film makers of God’s Not Dead do not even see the arrogance they give to their believer protagonist.  They are deliberately intellectually dishonest in how they portray the philosophy professor’s arguments.  And they end the film with the believer triumphing and exulting in his humiliation of the nonbeliever.

There is no pretense that the nonbelievers in Calvary are educated in philosophy, or that they are supposed to have arrived at atheism by any stupidity of their own.  They are representative of common people from different walks of life.  In fact, their contempt for the church is, I believe, sympathized with by the film makers because it is based on a moral ground.

 

The Catholic Church has disappointed and disillusioned them by its handling of the child sex abuse scandals.  Their attitude and lack of belief is reflective of a real contemporary lack of belief in Ireland, and the crisis that the church is up against because of this right now.  There is nothing even necessarily dishonest about any of them (except for Dylan Moran’s character, but even he admits to his dishonesty and its root seems to lie with his class and career rather than in his unbelief).  While they do often treat the priest cruelly, it is made clear by more than one character that their contempt is not personal, but instead is directed against what he represents.  And, in their eyes, what he represents is morally disreputable, tarnished and suspect.

The antagonism towards the church in Calvary seems to be very much be meant to represent the antagonism that the viewer may also feel.  There is nothing like this in God’s Not Dead.

I don’t mean to say that his treatment does not feel oppressive, and that their constant contempt and mockery doesn’t wear on the viewer.  But then I think this is meant to be, not to cast the town in a negative light, but to increase the difficult position in which Father Lavelle finds himself.

 

Moreover, it is true that many of the town’s characters are caricatures (the doctor himself admits as much).  But then Marie-Josée Croze’s saintly character is just as much a caricature, and is only more sympathetic because she is a caricature of faith that is unmindful of even the most powerful objections against faith.  And if the other priest is not another caricature of the awkward, cliché repeating, hypocritical priest that no one wants to be around, then I don’t know what is.  Even Father Lavelle doesn't want to be around him.

I’ve been trying to decide how to interpret the moment that Jeffrey refers to, when Father Lavelle admits that he just remained detached in his reaction to the sex abuse scandals.  The fact that the film intends for him to be morally complicit in this is, I think, shown by: (a) he was just earlier talking about his views on sins of omission, (B) it is evident that he is disappointed in himself, his admission is apologetic, and © the way the scene plays out, you think there is a chance that he can talk his way out of it.  But, and correct me if I’m wrong, it is directly after he admits his indifference that he is suddenly shot.  The shooting is very much a shooting out of desperation, frustration and despair.

(I started working on my review of this again, and it is challenging me (along with the discussion in this thread) because I feel like there is another idea here that I have not yet grasped or been able to completely think through yet.  I’m trying to think it through and explain it before I post my review.)

One of the biggest questions in the film also seems to me to be why Father Lavelle goes to the meeting on the beach.  It is clear that he almost doesn’t and that he is fearful about it.  It’s certainly not the sort of thing to do out of mere curiosity.  The odds of talking his way out of it never seem to increase as the story progresses.  He certainly doesn’t go because he wants to be a martyr.  And he doesn’t go in order to fight back or to defend himself.  So, and this is what I still have to think through, it seems like he goes as a matter of duty and vocation.  He still cares for his potential murderer and feels that the meeting is an obligation for him.  He goes there because of what he represents. The potential murderer’s objection is against what he represents as a priest in the church, and by going to the appointed meeting, he is bringing what he represents with him.  If Lavelle wasn’t a priest, then I don’t think it would be the same at all.  He keeps the appointment because he is a priest.

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Jeffrey:  I find your analysis and commentary persuasive.  I do have a couple of major reservations, however.  First, the film's set-up of an aspiring murderer/child rape victim versus a "decent, but guilty of the sin of omission" priest strikes me as a perilous exercise in moral equivalency.  Having travelled to Chile for my earlier analogy, I'll now venture to South Africa for my next one.  Certainly, the Zulu and Xhosa folks of South Africa did their own nefarious deeds in their fight for equality, but they were certainly more sinned against than sinners in the decades of apartheid.  I would say much the same for the common folk of Ireland by comparison to the priesthood.  A murderously vengeful rape victim muddies the water of guilt and responsibility here substantially.

 

Second, I would agree that forgiveness is needed all around.  However, for life to move forward, more than forgiveness is needed.  Reconciliation is also a must.  For true reconciliation to occur, a transparent confession of wrongs committed by the priesthood and RC hierarchy must take place.  It's not an option.  And to the best of my knowledge (and I've read extensively if not comprehensively on these topics), this has yet to occur.  (Please see the links to the blame the victim, pseudoapologies in the Philomena thread, if evidence is needed.)  The longer this is delayed, the less likely any trust or rapprochement will occur.

 

On this second point, Calvary woefully falls short, by attempting to circumvent this necessary process of open confession/forgiveness/reconciliation.  A (relatively) innocent scapegoat won't fix the problem.

Edited by Andrew

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I don't find the priest to be a scapegoat. I find this to be a story of individuals, not an allegory. I don't think that the film suggests in any way that the climactic act settles any score or redeems anything. It is a tragedy. A man of God dies for the sins of humanity in which he is complicit, but that in no way suggests that his sin of denial is equivalent to a murder, or that the murderer's act, driven by heartbreak and resentment and rage, is in any way equal to the tremendous, ongoing evil of the priesthood as a whole. It is just sin leading to more sin in varying degrees and varieties, and we cannot fix it. We can hope for, and seek, justice... but we must do so by also adhering to the Scripture's command that we "love mercy and walk humbly with our God" in the meantime.

 

The film made me feel surprising empathy for a murderer, even though I reject the shape his pain takes. I admire that about the film.

 

I feel incredible empathy for the priest, though I object to how his sense of "detachment" from the horrors committed by fellow priests. I admire that about the film too.

 

But over all of this, I am not moved in any way to think that the result of those two characters' collision resolves or absolves "the priesthood." The sins of the priesthood created this situation. And yes, there must be confession and repentance and justice. I don't think the film suggests otherwise. But in the meantime, for those who live in that ongoing shadow, peace will not come through violent retaliation or negligence or denial. It will come through forgiveness and faith.

Edited by Overstreet

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So what do you make of the title, then?  Do you think it was just foisted upon McDonagh?  (Please don't read any snarkiness into my query; I ask in all sincerity.)

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So what do you make of the title, then?  Do you think it was just foisted upon McDonagh?  (Please don't read any snarkiness into my query; I ask in all sincerity.)

 

Like many good titles, "Calvary" is ambiguous. It could refer to the suffering of more than one person.

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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.

 

 

 

Andrew, I am hard pressed to see how we are saying anything much different. I acknowledged there were "seeds of truth" presented through "tribally colored glasses." You say there are "grossly unfair generalizations." 

Is not the difference between "generalizations" and fabrications the point where we acknowledge "seeds" of truth? Isn't a generalization the act of making a statement about a class of people based on specific incidents? So if something is a generalization we are ceding that it happens from time to time. 

 

If we are talking about Christians, most accept the Bible as "the truth" (whatever that means to them personally). Passages such as John 15:18-27 are as much a part of the Bible as "love your neighbor" and "judge not lest ye be judged." As with most scripture, my understanding of such passages is filtered and processed through my own experiences and (I hope) the leading of the Spirit. And yes, I have experienced such things. (I.E hostility or animosity directed at me as a representative of the Church as [what was eventually confessed to be] transference for something else.) I do not discount your testimony of living in Bible belt and seeing Christians act (towards you or others) in ways you find hypocritical, unloving, or wrong. Do you dismiss mine of having experienced the same from non-believers? Or are Christians the only ones who do such things, and is noticing if/when anyone else does always and only a gross exaggeration?

 

What I see as a problem--and what I had hoped a comparison to GND would invite consideration of--is what happens when Christians take such passages as John 15:18-27 and don't extrapolate from them the principle that sometimes people (even atheists) hate you because you are Christian but rather any time that anyone hates you it is because you are a Christian. I think GND is suffused with this attitude/belief. I think Calvary is tainted by it, but I'm still working through how much of that belief comes from a dispassionate assessment of the film and how much of it is reactionary pushback against those who love it to the moon.

 

Really, honestly, I'm not trying to pick a fight with the atheist or help hijack this thread into tribal fights. I was the one who made the comparison to GND in the first place! And please bear in mind that the penultimate paragraph that you comment on is my description of the "tribal colored glasses" through which some Christians view the world, not an objective description of the world that we all look at and live in. 

 

 

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.)

 

 

Gareth has also confessed to me on more than one occasion that he worries that his self-acknowledged penchant for hyperbole costs him critical credibility points. 

 

I have been an indifferent reader of this thread, so apologies if this has come up before, but has anyone floated the idea of Father James's appointment on the beach as a form of suicide by proxy or assisted suicide? I mean, the final scene is great and all from the perspective of "we are the victims and we find it in our hearts to forgive" (heck it may even be tribal in that way if one conceded murder is as bad as/worse than molestation). But I'm having a hard time seeing how going to the beach to be murdered was the most loving or Christian thing he could do for/to the person who chose him. If that person's entire life wasn't effectively ruined by the molestation, it is hard to see how it isn't now, or how spending the rest of his life in prison is going to do much other than reharden an already hard heart. Perhaps the experience of miraculous forgiveness will melt his heart in a way nothing else could while he still considered himself the victim rather than himself a sinful being in need of forgiveness, but....

 

Might Father James have been better off trying to do something that would acknowledge the man's pain? Advocate for the Vatican to give full disclosure (a la Mea Maxima Culpa) of what it knew and when? Brought in the authorities (there is no official seal of confession when there is no confession, right?) while there is still time for therapy rather than a life-long jail sentence? I am remind of the scene in A Man for All Seasons where More and his daughter debate wanting to be a martyr (pride) versus accepting martyrdom if there is no way out you can see.

Edited by kenmorefield

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Ken, no worries, please.  Your points are well-taken.  Believe me, I'm aware of plenty of bad behavior within the atheist camp.  To wit:  1) the folks who label Christians as "Christ-tards"; 2) the guy I chastened on Facebook who emailed taunts to Rick Warren after his son's suicide; 3) the local MeetUp group of atheists that primarily seems to use their club as a way to act like frat boys and sorority girls.  And so on - human nature is human nature, no matter one's spiritual label. 

 

P.S., 8 hours later - And honestly, I couldn't be hard on anyone who painted atheists with a broad brush.  (I'm not saying that's you, Ken; I'm just making a general statement here.)  For years, I assumed that atheists were deep down just mad at God and were morally deficient, until I began to realize that the term agnostic (and later, atheist) applied to me.

Edited by Andrew

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So what do you make of the title, then?  Do you think it was just foisted upon McDonagh?  (Please don't read any snarkiness into my query; I ask in all sincerity.)

 

Calvary is the place where Christ asked God: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." And he said that as they killed him.

 

The movie asks us to empathize with, even take a forgiving attitude toward, a would-be killer... and eventually a killer. It also shows us a whole community that will lose a man who loves them and wants the best for them because they are punishing him for the sins of others.

 

Calvary draws our attention to Christ, who has something to say about everybody involved in this passion play... who shows them all to be wanting.

 

Remember Father James's early comment in the film about "the worst thing he could say about anybody"?

 

Father Leary: I didn't realise you hated me that much.

Father James Lavelle: I don't hate you, at all.

Father Leary: Then, why?

Father James Lavelle: It's just you have no integrity. That's the worst thing I could say about anybody.

 

Integrity. When something has integrity, every piece fits together. Everything lines up. But what's the pivotal moment for Father James? When he admits his "detachment" from the crisis of abuse in the church. That is a crack in integrity.

 

All fall short. We all lack integrity. No one can boast. That leaves Jesus alone as the hope for the abused, the abusers, and those who serve well but imperfectly. Calvary's about the best title I can think of.

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"...because they are punishing him for the sins of others."  Perhaps we could agree, at a minimum, that there is room for my interpretation of the film's title, as pointing to Father James as a scapegoat.  I agree, Rushmore, that some of the best movie titles carry a nice measure of ambiguity with them.

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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.)

Without denying entirely the possibility that some Christian viewers could possibly view certain aspects of the film through the lens of "tribalist fantasy," in the same spirit that some Christian viewers embrace movies like God's Not Dead, let's not lose sight of the fact that appreciation for Calvary, unlike God's Not Dead, has not remotely broken along tribal lines, as it were.

I would think that, to whatever extent Calvary offered something in any way like the "triumphalist, tribal fantasy" of God's Not Dead, however artified (and while I can entertain the notion of viewing the film through the lens of "tribal fantasy," the term "triumphalist" seems to me manifestly implausible, at least as I understand that term), one would expect to find stark rejection of the film among those outside the "tribe."

By the same token, inasmuch as many mainstream and irreligious cinephiles and critics have, for whatever reasons and however questionably in the eyes of some, embraced Calvary, I see no particular reason to view the appreciation of thoughtful Christian viewers in a skeptical light, as if it were a special problem to be explained, or as if their appreciation were likely to be quite different in character from, and suspect in comparison to, that of nonreligious cinephiles.

 

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?

For one thing, is that how Father James comes across? As a guy trying to be nice to his neighbors who laments that he gets no respect? I see him as a man who has all his life made heroic sacrifices to serve others, who wants nothing more than that. Even the more resentful of Fr. James's recalcitrant flock seem to grudgingly recognize that about him.

For another, while I know you're not explicitly implying moral equivalence, people who disappeared in Pinochet's Chile did so specifically on Pinochet's orders as a matter of his own policy in a government dominated by his personality, ambitions and motivations. To belong to Pinochet's service is to be implicated in the crimes of his government in a way that no priest is implicated in clerical sex abuse simply by being a priest (which is not to say that Father James isn't implicated at all; see below). The analogy, however imperfect, is offensive.

 

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.

It's easy to lose sight of that? For whom? I never thought it so, though my perspective might not be everyone's.

 

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.

I thought the whole point of the exchange in question is that Father James acknowledges that he isn't scott-free, that he is not without culpability on some level.

 

I have been an indifferent reader of this thread, so apologies if this has come up before, but has anyone floated the idea of Father James's appointment on the beach as a form of suicide by proxy or assisted suicide?

Well, McDonagh has called the film the second of a projected "Glorified Suicide Trilogy," so there's that. There is a certain ambiguity around the term "glorified," though.

 

I mean, the final scene is great and all from the perspective of "we are the victims and we find it in our hearts to forgive" (heck it may even be tribal in that way if one conceded murder is as bad as/worse than molestation).

I don't follow your parenthesis.

 

But I'm having a hard time seeing how going to the beach to be murdered was the most loving or Christian thing he could do for/to the person who chose him. If that person's entire life wasn't effectively ruined by the molestation, it is hard to see how it isn't now, or how spending the rest of his life in prison is going to do much other than reharden an already hard heart. Perhaps the experience of miraculous forgiveness will melt his heart in a way nothing else could while he still considered himself the victim rather than himself a sinful being in need of forgiveness, but....

 

Might Father James have been better off trying to do something that would acknowledge the man's pain? Advocate for the Vatican to give full disclosure (a la Mea Maxima Culpa) of what it knew and when? Brought in the authorities (there is no official seal of confession when there is no confession, right?) while there is still time for therapy rather than a life-long jail sentence? I am remind of the scene in A Man for All Seasons where More and his daughter debate wanting to be a martyr (pride) versus accepting martyrdom if there is no way out you can see.

In my view, Father James' decision to meet the man on the beach is the most difficult element in the film.

As I see it, and IIRC McDonagh has indicated this in interviews, Father James believes that the best chance of helping the man is by going himself rather than going to the police. This is a man who has been let down by church authorities doing the self-serving, expedient thing; going to the police would reinforce that narrative. He wants to save the man's soul, and he hopes his integrity will reach the man somehow. And I think he's willing to die, if it comes to that, as a representative of the Church that has allowed these crimes, and as someone who is not free of all complicity himself.

 

Which means I do think Andrew's reading of Father James as a scapegoat is valid.

To some extent I think this plays as fairy-tale logic, or as a parable more than an allegory, as I keep saying. Actions in parables don't always make real-world sense, or at least they're ambiguous in that regard.

Edited by SDG

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SDG, I apologize for the offense caused by my Pinochet analogy.  No analogy is perfect by any means, and it's the best I could come up with on short mental notice.  If Fr. James doesn't lament his loss of societal respect, the film itself does appear to me to lament this.  I could've been clearer in this regard.

 

Having been reminded of Fr. James' confession of indifference to the pederasty scandal, I also retract the 'scott-free' adverb, though I feel the rest of my sentence remains on firm ground.

 

Regarding my comment about Ireland's loss of faith and institutional Roman Catholicism's responsibility for this:  to take but one example, the blame-the-victim public statements by the orders behind the Magdalene laundries evidence a powerful denial of any awareness of culpability.  And to the best of my knowledge, nobody higher up in the RC hierarchy has publicly admonished these religious orders for these awful public statements (though I'd be happy to be corrected on this matter if I'm mistaken).

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SDG, I apologize for the offense caused by my Pinochet analogy.  No analogy is perfect by any means, and it's the best I could come up with on short mental notice.

Thanks, Andrew. No worries. 

 

If Fr. James doesn't lament his loss of societal respect, the film itself does appear to me to lament this.  I could've been clearer in this regard.

That's fair, though I think it's fair to say that the film seethes with such (justified) rage over the sex abuse scandal that your point that Church leaders themselves are to blame is not lost here. What the film primarily laments is not, I think, the personal lack of societal respect to Fr. James, but his inability to discharge the ministry of service he wishes to offer his neighbors, who could greatly benefit from his service if they were a little more open to him.

 

Regarding my comment about Ireland's loss of faith and institutional Roman Catholicism's responsibility for this:  to take but one example, the blame-the-victim public statements by the orders behind the Magdalene laundries evidence a powerful denial of any awareness of culpability.  And to the best of my knowledge, nobody higher up in the RC hierarchy has publicly admonished these religious orders for these awful public statements (though I'd be happy to be corrected on this matter if I'm mistaken).

You might be right that that denial continues to exist in the Irish Church. I guess I meant Church leaders' responsibility for the erosion of faith in Ireland was obvious to any realistic observer.

The statements I've seen from the religious orders over the years vary from self-serving alibis to meaningful if inadequate acknowledgments of wrongdoing. So far as I am aware, this is the most recent statement from Church leaders on the subject, from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. The statement says in part:

 

The harrowing story which is continuing to emerge of life and death in Mother and Baby homes has shocked the people of Ireland. It is disturbing that the residents of these Homes suffered disproportionately high levels of mortality and malnutrition, disease and destitution.

Sadly we are being reminded of a time when unmarried mothers were often judged, stigmatised and rejected by society, including the Church. This culture of isolation and social ostracising was harsh and unforgiving. The Gospel calls us to treat everyone, particularly children and the most vulnerable, with dignity, love, compassion and mercy. We must ensure that all children and their mothers always feel wanted, welcomed and loved. Mindful of the words of Jesus, ‘Let the little children come to me, because it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs’, we apologise for hurt caused by the Church as part of this system.

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My latest for Crux: Calvary, Philomena and The Magdalene Sisters…three scathing cinematic indictments of the sins of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

 

Each film has strengths and limitations. The great strength of “Calvary” is the Rev. James Lavelle, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, a tough-minded, realistic, compassionate priest with the capacity to see both sides of everything as well as the courage of his own convictions. Lavelle is an island of profound humanity in a sea of depravity, surrounded by supporting characters who are often caricatures, at times seemingly calibrated for maximum perversity.

 

The unpleasantness of much of the supporting cast is arguably excessive, although “Calvary” moderates its picture in important ways. For one thing, Lavelle is not unflawed; in a particularly dark hour he gets into a drunken brawl. His virtue is contrasted, too, not only with compromised laity, but also with his vacuous assistant priest (not to mention the unseen clerical abuser). There are also sympathetic lay characters, notably Lavelle’s emotionally troubled adult daughter and a pious French tourist.

Edited by SDG

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Liked it better on second viewing, and I retract any accusations of smugness or triumphalism in the evangelical porn vein.

 

Still can't quite shake the feeling that it is the dramatic equivalent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail--tons and tons of quotable lines but never quite being enriched or improved by a narrative context. 

 

Todd and I are planning to podcast, though, so we'll see if he can talk me into liking it more or less (he's one of the few who can).

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Still can't quite shake the feeling that it is the dramatic equivalent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail--tons and tons of quotable lines but never quite being enriched or improved by a narrative context. 

 

That is a distinct possibility. 

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Still can't quite shake the feeling that it is the dramatic equivalent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail--tons and tons of quotable lines but never quite being enriched or improved by a narrative context. 

 

That is a distinct possibility. 

 

 

Huh. It is a big move to read satire (not quite the right word, but...) where others see emotional realism or confession. Interested in hearing more that direction, so I will queue up the podcast for later. Part of my issue with the film is that its narrative context is so elusive. It seems clear, but it actually isn't. It could be the Catholic Church and sexual abuse scandal. It could be this town's psychic revolt against their shared experience of said history. It could be this priest's confessional experience of his complicity in said history. It could be a passion play pivoting on an act of absolution - either for town or church. It could be a caustic, Bunuelian riff on the church and modern vice - that ultimately condemns both the priest and his confessor. (I lean toward this one...)

 

I think more potential narrative contexts could be listed. But I read this contextual indecision or ambiguity as a flaw.

Edited by M. Leary

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Man, where were you when we were podcasting. That's really well put.

 

Don't mean to imply Calvary was satire. Just that individual scenes/interactions played better for me than did the way those scenes were strung together (for the reasons you mentioned).

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Part of my issue with the film is that its narrative context is so elusive. It seems clear, but it actually isn't.

Yes, I think this gets at the point Ken was making (and that I expressed some support for).

 

It could be a caustic, Bunuelian riff on the church and modern vice - that ultimately condemns both the priest and his confessor. (I lean toward this one...)

This is a question I've given a lot of thought to, from my first comment in this thread to my review, which begins with McDonough's description of the film as "basically Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest with a few gags thrown in" and reframes the question this way: "Is Father James more like Greene’s whisky priest or Buñuel’s Padre Nazario? Does his dogged perseverance in the teeth of apathy and hostility bespeak heroic virtue or quixotic futility?"

In the end, I think the film leans more Greene than Buñuel, and not just because the priest is so persuasively, authentically human. That wouldn't be enough to overcome the climax — if the film stopped there. The climax can be read in a Buñuelian light, but I think the denouement takes it further.

It is Fr. James's religious milieu that gives him the vision for what could be his epitaph, "I think forgiveness has been highly underrated." That line echoes through the film's last shot. This is not a Buñuelian vision by my lights.

Edited by SDG

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See, I actually read Greene as more negative than Buñuel--at least insofar as the responses he engenders in me. If Calvary were channeling Greene, I think McDonagh would have made it abundantly clear (at least at some point) that Father James doesn't ultimately believe any of it but is conditioned to act, addicted, or just too metaphysically scared to break away. And Father James's superior would be an obvious hypocrite. One could argue, I guess that the butcher is equivalent to the mestizo in The Power and the Glory, since both betray the priest , but I can't recall a hero in Greene who has Father James's conviction. 

Edited by kenmorefield

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See, I actually read Greene as more negative than Buñuel--at least insofar as the responses he engenders in me. If Calvary were channeling Greene, I think McDonagh would have made it abundantly clear (at least at some point) that Father James doesn't ultimately believe any of it but is conditioned to act, addicted, or just too metaphysically scared to break away.

Is that how you read Greene?!? The whisky priest "doesn't ultimately believe"? I recall him lacking, or perceiving himself to lack, the theological virtue of hope — but not faith. Never faith.

 

One could argue, I guess that the butcher is equivalent to the mestizo in The Power and the Glory, since both betray the priest , but I can't recall a hero in Greene who has Father James's conviction.

Fr. James is a far more admirable, self-integrated figure than the whisky priest, certainly. Indeed, he strikes me as a more attractive figure than any of the priests we've discussed: more tough-minded and formidable than Bresson's wan consumptive, and perhaps more realistic and less naive even than Padre Nazario — though Padre Nazario was certainly intended by Buñuel to be the epitome of a good priest, precisely because only in a good priest could Buñuel offer an indictment of religion itself, as distinct from mere corruption and venality. Whereas Greene went essentially the opposite way, showing how even in a weak, corruptible priest, a priest lacking in any sense of consolation, even the confidence that he was pleasing God, God's grace was nevertheless at work.

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I saw Calvary last night, and of all the troubling aspects of the film, this was the biggest head-scratcher.  And I'm surprised it took four pages and however-many-months to get to the meat of this question.   So I'm grateful that you tackled it, Steve.  Reasonable.

 

Personally, I'm still figuring this movie out.  By being anecdotal, it was concerned with different stories, different scenes with varied character-archetypes.  There was the general thrust of the narrative, but you could be very easily lost within its intricacies.

 

Back to what JO wrote a few pages back:

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.

 

I almost don't think this is entirely fair.  Hear me out.

 

Suppose a priest reads the paper and comes across another story of a fallen priest, being accused of some heinous crime.  Suppose this priest is not familiar with this priest in general, nor the victim, nor any of the congregants.  The only person he knows is the bishop, the same boss as this other priest was.

 

How is he to respond?  Realistically?

 

So he didn't tear up, like he did with his canine pet.  But he knew his dog, he doesn't know this priest.  Perhaps if he did know his priest, or knew the victim, he would cry, even gush oceans of tears.

 

Whether an individual person cries or is stoic in regards to a series of events that are not in his community, not in his parish, what actions could this priest do?

 

Can he testify in court?  No.

Can he take donations and give to the victims?  Perhaps.  But there are hundreds of thousands of needy organizations that are in dire need of funds.  Maybe his heart is towards the malnourished in Central Africa, for example.  Would not diverting funds to the victims be taking away from those who are hungry?

Could he have prevented this from happening?  I can't see how.  You can't prevent something from happening if you don't know if it's happening to begin with.

Can he go to the bishop and start a movement to put safeguards into place that prevent this from happening in the future?  As a Catholic who has twice undergone the current VIRTUS training required for lay ministers, I can only hope that they have similar precautions in place in Ireland.  But it's also very old news to me.  Who's to say that he hasn't asked his parishioners to undergo similar training?

 

ETA: Suppose, for the sake of argument, that this good priest actually did do some positive things, all affecting different parishes and communities, all affecting positive changes at the hierarchical level.  These positive steps could still remain unknown to the killer/victim.  Wouldn't the end result be the same? 

 

Frankly, this is all rather facile.  Hey, I don't live in Ferguson, or Baltimore, don't know any cops, but apparently I am now racist because I'm a white male.  Apparently I am racist because I, somehow, allowed Michael Brown to get shot. 

 

And to that I say, Baloney.   I am not responsible for the actions, personally or societally, of the heinous/tragic mistreatments that were caused by a very few, in areas far away from me. 

 

There's simply a point where you can only look at these newspaper tragedies and realize that, whether you look at these stories impersonally with sadness, or cry out the Mississippi river, these tragedies happen and will continue to happen outside of who you are or what you have done.

 

Added Postscript:  If I am wrong, then please answer the question, what would you suppose the priest could have done in that situtation?  And if you answer "pray," I would say, "who's to say that the priest didn't do just that?"

Edited by Nick Alexander

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I'm teaching this film as part of my World Lit/Film (with cultural anthropology approach). 

I confess it continues to grow on me with closer scrutiny, so that's something. 

Two thoughts on rewatchign the first 20 minutes in preparation for class today, one rote, one a bit more thought provoking....

1) I think it is interesting and important that the first scene (in the confessional) segues to the credits over Irish landscapes, reinforcing the idea that this isn't merely the story of a priest who happens to be in Ireland but of an Irish priest. That this is a story situated in a specific point and time. (The references to colonial history in first conversation with Black parishioner and of cultural changes in first conversation with other priest who asks him if he knows what felchigng is) also reinforce that this is is a film about cultural changes and responses. That is to say, I'm reading it more today as a novel (set in a particular place and time) rather than a parable (embodying a timeless idea with the particulars of setting being largely irrelevant). The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but I do think one predominates.

2) I was struck by the fact that in talking to the other priest, he uses the word "detach" in speaking about how to deal with parishioners and cultural change. I can't help but think this is deliberate since it is the very word/idea that prompts the final action in the climactic scene. That makes me think that if there is a key truth/idea here is might involve a commentary about detachment as opposed to being an advocacy piece for certain kinds of engagement.

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My students (whom I admire) actually made an interesting connection. We were talking about the mise-en-scene of being closed in (restricted) and one student raised the idea that one of the ways in which he is restricted or confined is through his vows, which another student pointed out include poverty and chastity, and how the other priests don't necessarily live in poverty. 

That in turn led to an interesting discussion about what is the point of vows of poverty or chastity. I am sure there are many from a Roman Catholic perspective. But one way I think about it is that they are supposed to keep you from be so enmeshed with the world that you are unable to perform the priestly duties (like giving solace). That is -- in the film's language -- they are supposed to help you become (or stay) detached

Yet the father learns to question detachment. People can't likely be solaced if you don't think you care, and detachment is (can come across as? or genuinely is) a form of not caring. [We didn't yet make that connection, but I think it is in line with the film's line about thinking only about sins and not enough about virtues.]

 

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