Calvary is the perfect name for a film rising in overtones of religious decline, moral fragility, human weakness, and borderline depravity.
Brendon Gleason shoulders this poignant tale from the first to its last frame as Father James. It is set in rural Ireland, where the landscape takes your breath away, no matter how often and repeatedly the filmmaker lets your eyes feast on nature in full glory. A small town good natured priest Father James, is hearing a confession one Sunday, when the confessor tells him that he was sexually abused by a priest. The priest in question is dead and there is little reparation that the man will ever get. To make a point about sexual abuse in the church and how there seems to be little real remorse for what happened to him, the man threatens to kill Father James in a weeks time. This is how the film begins and sets the ball rolling of Father James going from one member of the community to another, finding where the moral centre of his town lies. He finds that each and every member of his community is struggling, suffering through life and unsure of where to find comfort: a couple suffers from physical abuse in their relationship, the town police chief has a male concubine, who very blatantly flaunts servicing other men in the community, the doctor at the town hospital has his own dispassionate emotions towards his work and the patients in his care, the richest man around has no family or friends around him and knows not what to do with his wealth than piss on the expensive art work he buys, quite literally.
While Father James finds his faith pushed and questioned and remains unwavering, its hard not to wonder how goodness does survive in the presence of a mammoth called human depravation.
Father James’s daughter comes in from the city to spend sometime with him. Fionaa Lavelle is understated and emotionally static and plays the role of a daughter coming home to a father she lost to the hilt. They reconnect somewhat, while she opens her heart out to him. She tenderly confronts him on his abandoning her, after her mother’s death and how the loss of two parents, one living and one dead profoundly altered her life. They part having found each other again and give us some reason to want to continue to live on and not be overcome by despair.
Writer director John Michael McDonagh isn’t just dabbling with the trauma of child abuse in the Catholic Church, he is talking about a child parent relationship, he is talking about fidelity, humanity, tolerance of the other no matter where we are and who we are, wealth and the trauma it brings.
One of the most telling moments of the film is when James is walking towards the beach, enroute somewhere and he chances upon a young girl. He casually makes conversation and is speaking to her when suddenly, her father drives up to where they are, stops his car in a haste and begins to aggressively confront James with questions about his motives and what he was trying to do by talking to his daughter.
James feels mortified at the suggestion that his intention was foul and this breaks him from within. How the actions of a few paints everyone with the same colour.
Calvary is a difficult film. It lends a deep insight to us being human and us being extremely weak in every way. It is a harsh and detached critique of our everyday failings. The finality of the film merely underscores how goodness struggles every single moment to survive and stay afloat in the sea of human greed.
It doesn’t take more than a small Irish town with a few hundred people, going along their daily lives, to shine the light on the state of the entire human race.
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