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Calvary

“Calvary” opens with the threat of a violent act. In the confessional, a man tells Father James (Brendan Gleeson) that he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy. That priest is dead, but the damage he caused in this man’s life hasn’t ceased. And so he is going to kill Father James, in a week’s time, not because he is a bad priest, but because he is a good one. He is as innocent as the man was as a little boy when he was abused.

But I don’t think this is really a movie about whether or not the guy does the deed. It’s a thriller set up, but it’s not a thriller. It’s not about who the mystery man in the confessional is — Father James knows who he is right away, because he recognizes his voice. It’s a small town, and he’s a good priest. And it’s not about whether Father James finds a way out of it. Ways out abound; the film is a little bit about whether he decides to stay and let it happen and why, but there was never much question in my mind that he would. So I don’t think it’s really spoiling it to tell you: he dies at the end.

And once that’s out of the way, we can focus on what’s really remarkable and memorable about this film. I always feel weird about calling a movie — at the end of the day, a piece of entertainment — “spiritual,” but I can’t avoid it. This is perhaps the most spiritual film I’ve seen since “Of Gods and Men,” which was also about priests choosing to live out their faith by letting death come to them.

I really like Father James. I want to be like him. He might be my favorite movie character since Margie Gunderson in “Fargo,” and for similar reasons. He brooks no nonsense. He sees right through people’s lies and obfuscations, and not just the lies they tell him, but the stories they tell themselves, as well. And he does it without judgment or arrogance. He does it with care and compassion, inviting people to be honest, with him and with themselves, and to be better people. And he genuinely believes they can be better people, and invites them to believe that, too. Without the least hint of sentimentality or saccharine, he really is making the world a better place.

Another thing I love about this character – he is not afraid of people’s pain and anger, when it is honestly expressed. Father James seems to understand that a lot of people have very good reasons to be angry at the Church, and even at God. When they express that anger – by attacking or attempting to provoke him – he listens, and by listening validates that their pain is real. He doesn’t defend or argue. My tendency, as a minister, is to correct people’s theology. It is very seldom helpful. I would like to be more like Father James.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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