Wednesday, January 21, 2015

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…


You know that feeling you get when you know something bad is going to happen.  You don’t always know when it’s going to happen, and you may not even know what exactly it is, but you know that it’s going to happen.  Your stomach drops, your palms get sweaty and every time that someone says “hey, can we talk” you just know; it’s the end.

Now, imagine that you not only knew what that bad thing was, but you knew exactly when it was going to happen.



‘Calvary’ is one of those films that starts with a scene so jarring, so emotionally harrowing that you’re almost convinced that the tone set with obliterate your soul, but the way that John Michael McDonagh shapes this complex morality/spirituality tale is so effortless and so controlled that it literally sits comfortably on the viewer from frame to frame.  This is a hard film to digest, because it is so controversially spun, and yet it is an easy (or at least easier than one should expect it to be) film to swallow.

But I’m telling you, that opening scene sent shivers from one end of my body to the other and really, it alone should have earned Brendan Gleeson (who’s never been better) an Oscar nomination.

In that opening scene, Father James is informed, through the confession booth, that he is going to die.  He is going to be sacrificed as a bold statement against all those Catholic priests who have taken advantage, sexually, of young boys.  His murderer himself was abused, horrifically, and wants justice to be served.  The thing is, Father James is an innocent man, and this murderer knows this.  But wouldn’t the murder of an innocent priest make more of a statement, a cautionary impact, than the murder of a man everyone knew was corrupt?  So, with just a few days of life left to live, Father James goes about his business.  He doesn’t want to burden the ones he loves most, and so for the most part he keeps his impending death a secret and just continues with his commission.  He continues to make himself an integral part of his small seaside community, extending his hand to those in need and waiting out the inevitability of his future as he contemplates the man at the end of the gun.


‘Calvary’ cuts.  It beautifully rests in this place that feels so natural and honest and so human and so when we watch Father James mediate through his day, we feel a part of his life, a part of his soul, and we understand him.  We collect the information of his past and of his emotional frailties and we begin to understand the construction of his present self, which makes this man so relatable.  He isn’t just a figment, a fraction of a being, an ideal with no name; but Father James is a man, an honest man, a man trying to be what he promised himself he’d become because of the man he used to be and longs to forget.

And this is where ‘Calvary’ becomes more than just another movie about the Catholic Church and their history with child abuse.

Yes, child abuse is mentioned more than once, and the allegations that continue to swarm the church are used as ammo against an honest man and his vocation, but at the core of ‘Calvary’ lies something more; a feeling of universal failings and the encroaching corrosion of sin and guilt.  Father James, a man who was, for all intents and purposes, completely innocent of the crime he was being punished for, was not an innocent man, at least not in his own eyes, and being confronted with this act of essential martyrdom brought flooding back to him the unsettling realization that no matter how hard you may try and dress up your mistakes, hiding them behind a title and a robe, you can never fully escape your past mistakes.  Father James was a good man.  We watched him as he bonded with his daughter and reached out to those in the community in clear need and heard out the cries from those in clear pain and we saw the genuineness in his face as he took in their circumstance, but we also saw that the damage had been done.  He had been reminded.  He had been outed, so-to-speak, and because of that he would forever be doomed to his inevitable.

‘Calvary’ has so many interesting things to say about faith, about our past mistakes and our own willingness of forgive or to persecute ourselves, regardless of where we are on our current path, and how much faith can or can’t fix those things for us.


Just contemplate the decision Father James makes…about his own life.


It haunts.

An A.  So much an A from me, and possibly even more given more time to reflect.  I'm so overwhelmed with just how much this film has to say, and how strongly it says it.  More films about faith, life and guilt should be made in this fashion, because these are the kinds of films that resonate for a long time.

24 comments:

  1. I thought this film was beautiful, but it was so slow and wtf with that dog death? I didn't need that! I'm kind of torn on how I feel about this as a whole. I've had my review written and in my drafts for awhile, but I haven't given it a grade yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The pace never bothered me, for I felt the dynamics of the prose building in every frame, in every word, in every stare.

      I'm with you on the dog death though...I'm not sure why that was there.

      I want your review...publish it!

      Delete
    2. I agree ... I felt the dog death was a bit gratuitous. That seems like such a common ploy, by films, to make an emotional impact. And this movie had such emotional impact already, it didn't need that.

      Delete
    3. It's the one aspect of the film that I honestly didn't understand...the purpose or anything...it just felt, random and unexplored.

      Delete
  2. I'm right with you on this film as you know. You're right to point out the haunting opening scene and the choice that Father James makes about his own life. His ultimate fate wasn't inevitable, yet he made the choice to follow that path.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By inevitable, I mean merely that it was always going to end that way, because of the guilt Father James carried on his shoulder. There was never any doubt in my mind that that would be his final decision. He wasn't going to run away, and he wasn't going to survive.

      Delete
  3. No, not you too!

    I hated that movie. It was boring, bizarre and O'Dowd and Gillen straight up embarrassed themselves. And that dog scene. What a miserable experience watching that movie was. Had it not been for the score I'd just stop watching.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew that you weren't high on this one. I thought O'Dowd was very good, especially in the final scene...but I am with you on the dog scene (and I know that those types of things bother you strongly).

      Still, I found the way the themes were developed here were remarkable, and Gleeson just blew me away.

      Delete
    2. I wasn't fond of Gillen's performance either. I do like him as an actor, but his performance here was just ... odd. I did like O'Dowd though.

      Delete
    3. Was Gillen the overt homosexual? Or was he the flamboyant millionaire? I'm not familiar with him as an actor.

      Delete
    4. The overt homosexual was over-the-top annoying. I'd almost forgotten about him. :-) Gillen was the atheist doctor.

      Delete
    5. Ah, thanks for clearing that up.

      Delete
  4. I haven't seen this one but I'm VERY intrigued. Boy that is one dark and controversial subject matter, but I have no doubt Gleeson is great in this. He's such an underrated actor and it'd have been nice to see him get recognition for his performance here. I LOVE him in In Bruges and The Guard!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For me, this was Gleeson's triumph. I wish he had snagged that Oscar nom, but that race was too tight. Right now, he's my favorite performance of the year.

      Delete
  5. This sounds like a haunted film and I am certain the acting is brilliant but I also can feel myself getting pissed. If he is so good and helps and is innocent, why the hell doesn't he go to the cops! I know that is the whole basis of the film and the philosophy is ingrained in this but I would shake my head at want to tell this priest to smarten up! The main who is going to do this evil deed is obviously dealing with major issues and needs help. He is not bringing recognition to the issues but negates the horrors that happened to him and others by killing an innocent man. Oh oh do ya feel my anger and frustration? Obviously I have to see the film before anything and i know it is a thinking man's film

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Watch the film. I felt the frustration too, and yet it all made so much sense in the end...like, you understand Father James so much because of his choices.

      Delete
  6. You know, I loved this movie very much. It's a paradox that feels so beautiful. And for me, Brendan Gleeson's performance is one of the best in 2014. He could portray a father and a Father at once... you know, it's a rare thing, but he nailed it like its his natural being. Love that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES, he played both sides of this character with such fluidity, such naturalism. Astonishing performance.

      Delete
  7. "It haunts." Exactly. This film is still the most powerful one I've seen from 2014, and Gleeson's layered performance is a big part of it. I also adore McDonagh's rich screenplay, which could've been much less effective. For me, the film is a triumph. Definitely one of the best I saw last year. Great review man!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did you see...right now both Gleeson and the screenplay are Fisti winners!

      Delete
    2. I saw! :D Crossing my fingers that they at least hang on for noms, if not wins! I know Gleeson is pretty strong, but I hope McDonagh can score a nod as well.

      Delete
    3. At this point, I'd be shocked if either of them loses the nom, and I'll be really shocked if Gleeson loses the win...I've already started engraving his Fisti.

      Delete
  8. What a beautiful review! I admire your writing talent and skill.

    I agree with what you said about the opening scene. I was mesmerized by Gleeson's face during the confessional scene. Every facial expression conveyed so much with the right amount of subtlety.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much :-D

      Yeah, that opening scene just hit all of the right marks. Gleeson's face, the way he processes what he's hearing, the way he allows us to understand that internal battle while maintaining composure is so incredible...and there is a moment when he almost looks as if he's going to heave, but he pulls it back almost immediately...it's such an impulsive and honest moment.

      Delete