There are some benefits of being cooped up at home with hot water bottle and box of paper tissues! For a start I can finally catch up on all the emails, various reading materials helpful folk sends my way, movies, books, even blogging … honestly apart from spring there is nothing more one could wish for!
Following one such suggestion from a very good friend of mine, I set to watch the latest Irish collaboration between very Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and equally Irish writer-director John M. McDonagh.
The movie has apparently been described as a ‘black-comedy’. After watching it I could not agree less with such description. Although there are certainly some humorous moments, the movie really is a drama and rather complex drama at that.
The opening scene is as poignant as it is indicative of what is to come.
Catholic priest; Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is ready to hear confession from the confessee we cannot see and whose opening line is; ‘I was seven years old when I tasted semen for the first time.’ The confessee was repeatedly raped as a child by a Catholic priest who is no longer living.
He, however, has not come to seek solace or to come to terms with his life-long pain.
He has come to tell Father James that he will murder him next Sunday, down on the beach, not because Father James is a bad priest, but precisely because he is a very good one. And killing a good priest instead of a bad one would be worse for the Catholic Church. It is a date.
It is that scene that sets the scene for the whole movie.
The rest of the movie follows the Father James’ week as he goes about his life.
If Catholic Church wanted a movie that, despite it all, offers hope – than McDonagh/Gleeson delivered it.
Father James was married and had a daughter before he became priest following his wife’s death. His daughter (Kelly Reilly) is as beautiful as she is fragile.
She visits her father whose parish is situated in a picturesque seaside village where long walks in beautiful scenery and sharply intellectual conversations are meant to help her recover from attempted suicide. Like her father’s hers is tender soul, and deeply troubled in its tenderness. After the death of her mother, she feels her father abandoned her as well to become priest.
Father James is embodiment of what Catholic Church (or perhaps any church for that matter) wants its clergy to be; man with unflinching integrity, wise, knowledgeable, compassionate, empathetic, warm-hearted, tolerant … in a word he is a good shepherd.
This is nowhere more obvious than in his dialogues with younger priest who servers alongside him and who, in Father’s James words – ‘would be better suited to be an accountant in an insurance firm’ due to lack of integrity, or when he comments on his superior’s purely academic response to his trouble – ‘his excellency had read that in a book.’
Clearly, Catholic Church, while acknowledging those amid it ranks toiling at both side of the spectrum, given a choice would rather hope for more of Father James’ type.
But Father James’ flock is deeply troubled. The waste and beautiful empty landscapes of the coastal settlement harbour characters that, when put together, no doubt represent modern Ireland in all its beauty and all its troubles, as well as flawed and suspect humanity.
There is a violently atheistic local doctor whose monologue on God’s cruelty makes Beckett sound tame, quirky writer, obscenely rich and lonely man who had made most of his money illegally and wants to donate some to Church, local good-time girl (every village must have one) married to a butcher, rough and ready pub-owner, a black man working as a mechanic … and all of them, except a beautiful woman whose faith remains unshaken even after losing her beloved husband in a senseless car wreck, have their own grievances with Catholic Church.
The question of course is – who is the confessee? Who is capable of killing a good priest in a cold blood in the broad day-light on the local beach?
Still Father James genuinely and sincerely cars and reaches to them all during what supposes to be the last week of his life as he would do any other week.
Because as he observed in his last conversation with his daughter – ‘we look too much at sins and not enough on virtues … of which forgiveness is the most important.’
At the appointed day Farther James walks to the beach to face his killer, the man whose voice he had of course recognized a week ago in the confessional.
The man shoots Father James and walks away.
The movie’ last scene shows Father’s James daughter visiting her father’s killer in prison. The movie ends before their conversation is heard.
Whether or not movie’s ambition to examine religious faith through the lens of the horror of the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has been achieved is something every viewer will decide for themselves.