Jan 18, 2020
Welcome back for our final review of the week. I wasn’t sure what to make of today’s film when I first saw a trailer for it. A comedy about the Catholic Church right now seems like a weird idea, especially given the near constant scandal they continue to struggle with from decades of covering up child abuse. But once I learned that it would be dealing with the scandal directly, and the first of many shakeups to follow, I knew I would have to give it a viewing. And I’m really glad I did.
Before the review, we’ll have a promo from our good friend Rory Mitchell, from the Mitchell Report Unleashed podcast. They were gracious enough to have yours truly on as a guest recently, which you can check out in Mitchell Report Unleashed Episode #173. You can follow Rory on Twitter @officallyrory, on Facebook @mitchellreportunleashed, and on Instagram @re3684. You can also subscribe to the podcast at anchor.fm/rory-mitchell8. Don’t miss a single episode of his insightful interview-driven show.
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Here we go!
<< MITCHELL REPORT UNLEASHED PROMO >>
Today’s movie is THE TWO POPES, the biographical dramedy directed by Fernando Meirelles and written by Anthony McCarten, based on McCarten’s 2017 play, “The Pope”. Set against the backdrop of the Vatican leaks scandal, which exposed high level officials that had covered up child abuse, Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) faces pressure to resign or retire as pontiff. He calls his previous rival, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) to the Vatican to discuss the situation and chart a potential new direction for the church.
My relationship to religion has been a strained one. My family was never really religious growing up, with the exception of our great-grandmother. I started going to church mostly because of a friend at the same parish, and because at least part of my friend group went there every week. I went on a neo-pagan journey of discovery after that, then came back to join the Catholic church in 2003 after some serious introspection into what kind of church I wanted to belong to. And recently, after years of struggling with reconciling the child sex abuse crisis with my belief in the larger church, along with clashes on a number of social beliefs, I left the Church, at least until they can get their act together.
It’s easy to paint the Catholic Church with a wide brush, especially after years and years of conservative political guidance beginning at the turn of last century. However, the Catholic Church also represents roughly an eighth of the world’s population, and within its membership, an incredibly big tent of beliefs and perspectives. For every Padre Pio, the right-wing darling conservative priest, there’s a Thomas Merton, the left-wing, almost Buddhist-leaning progressive priest. Many within the church find their niche, and that inevitably leads to clashes among Catholics.
THE TWO POPES is about that clash, as exemplified by the two current popes within the Catholic Church. Retired Pope Benedict XVI is firmly entrenched in the conservative views of the Church, placing tradition and scripture above social enterprise, a major criticism of progressively-minded Church members. Pope Francis is firmly entrenched in the so-called liberal view of the Church, placing mission and outreach above meaningless adherence to tradition and strict interpretations of scripture, in line with his Jesuit upbringing. And for someone who has struggled with the Church, this film touched my heart in surprising ways.
The film is titled THE TWO POPES, but the film is primarily about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and his attempt to retire from the Church. Jonathan Pryce captures the playful nature of Bergoglio, someone who has grown up among the people, but also the serious, shameful nature of someone who was forced to make difficult choices during the Argentinian dictatorship. One of the traits I most admire about Pope Francis is his refusal to have others do simple tasks for him, which has played out to comedic effect both inside and outside the Church.
Opposite, but in a more supportive role, is Anthony Hopkins as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has been criticized heavily by the progressive members of the Church. We do learn about his part in moving a pedophile priest, which was detailed in the Vatican Leaks scandal, but we also get the more human aspects of Ratzinger, a more self-aware version. I cannot forgive any Church administrator who helped cover up this scandal, but I definitely can appreciate that Ratzinger, and many other priests, bishops, and cardinals I’ve known over the years, are people dealing with pressures and problems like anyone else. Hopkins does a great job, especially with his natural resemblance to Ratzinger.
They make a great pair on screen, not just in their stark differences, but also in the way they share the unique and fraternal bond of the Roman clergy. Great chemistry is supported by clever and poignant dialogue, an amazing achievement set against the major shake-up happening around them. We also get a younger Bergoglio, played by Juan Minujín, who shows the real sacrifices made by those who seek a life within the clergy.
The end result is a deceptively complex story, looking not just at two men, or even two popes, but at two different wings within the church, as well as the circumstances surrounding the largest scandal to rock the Church in centuries. All in a digestible, even comedic story that doesn’t treat the scandal with any less respect than it deserves. A remarkable accomplishment by Fernando Meirelles and Anthony McCarten.
THE TWO POPES is a heartwarming, insightful, and most of all, human look at the scandal which rocked the Catholic Church at its highest levels. Pryce and Hopkins play the two popes, representing not just the men, but the ideologies they espouse, in surprising and even funny ways. Catholics should definitely watch this film, whether they side strongly with one pope or the other. Everyone else should be able to appreciate the film, even if they have strong opinions about the subjects either way.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.6/10
THE TWO POPES (2019) is rated PG-13 and is currently playing on Netflix.