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Calvary (2014)

J.A.A. Purves

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On 3/3/2015 at 2:35 PM, SDG said:

So our class discussion was informed by their having to have just completed an "ideology" paper in which they situate a film left-center-right using Giannetti's descriptors.

This scene got a lot of comments, not surprisingly, since the the whole "thou shalt not kill" and "no exceptions" gets the reply "what about self-defense?" In other words, the exchange is about absolutes. Father James is mostly an absolutist but he concedes there are some instances (such as self-defense) that are "tricky." He then apparently goes on to make an exception for Milo, suggesting he move someplace he is more likely to find a loose woman. The question that I think the film invites is whether that exception is because he sees sex outside of marriage as being less important (venial/mortal) than some potential violence, or whether he is making the exception for others but not himself. (For Milo and the abused parishioner, I'll take context into consideration, but for myself and my duties, there are no exceptions.)


On 6/11/2015 at 10:09 AM, Nick Alexander said:

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.

I am with Jeff here, at least as to interpretation of the movie's  point, not necessarily if it is correct in where it lands. What I think missing from Steven's article/analysis/defense is the fact that this exchange takes place in a movie that is centrally about and informed by the clergy-sex-abuse scandals. Within that thematic context, Father James's advice/question to Milo sounds a lot like what the church has been condemned for -- passing the buck, trying to send the perpetrator away. (When the inspector comments about arresting a pedophile priest and getting demoted, Father James asks what happened to the priest and the inspector says he was sent away to the third world where he could do whatever he wanted.) There is a difference in that the priest(s) have already sinned whereas Milo is stating his intention, but even buying into Steven's argument, if Milo did harm to someone in London, or Dublin, or New York (whether that harm be spiritual harm of "moral sin" or violent harm of sexual crime), wouldn't those victims feel as though Father James had acted much like the church in pushing the problem away rather than confronting it? 

Non-related aside--I had forgotten the story of Finn McCool was included here. There is a lot of meaning for me in Father James's comment to Fiona (when she spouts the story back to him) of "not much poetry in that reading." There are two themes that are reinforced here and throughout:

1) Meaning of stories change depending on how you tell them.
2) Father James gets irritated when people reflect back to him the things he has said or that they have heard said already.  (Doctor's joke about suicide, Fiona's recitation of his story. Quip to bishop about thinking he read that "in a book"; Fiona's list of "suicides" including Christ, original voice in the confession adding "as they say in the reports", etc. etc.)

I think it is telling and touching that when speaking to the French woman after he performs that last rites, he asks her to pray with him rather than asking her if she would like him to pray for her or with her.

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I appreciated some of the visuals, though my recent visit to Northern Ireland made me wonder where they were. The description of Finn McCool and the coast semed farther north, but they mention Wicklow at one point which is south of Dublin. 

Anyhow, I like how this phone call before he goes to the beach juxtaposes the tower in the background as a symbol. The work of the church is unfinished, and he, as Christ's body "finishes" the work. Or, does it mean the work of the church is ancient but decaying, no longer standing up to the cares and problems of the modern world?

Calvary Phone.jpg

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  • 11 months later...

So, I was screening this in my world literature course, and somehow, through several viewings, I had never quite caught Fiona's line in the confessional, "You think what happened to me is unimportant." 

Obviously, the film's themes are not dependent on any one line, but I take the inference that something specific happened to Fiona, I assume a rape, that precipitated her suicide attempt. This certainly reinforces the visual juxtaposition between Fiona and Jack at the end of the film (their faces merge in the reflection of the glass) and suggests to me one reason why Jack could hear something from Fiona that he couldn't from James...they share an experience. To the extent he knows or realizes some shared pain in her, it also falsifies his justification for killing James, that James never cried for the victims....

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