Ireland | UK 2014
Starts October 23, 2014
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Writing credits: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brenda Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly
Length: 100 minutes
Father James (Gleeson) is an amiable Catholic priest who is told during confession that he is going to be murdered by the end of the week. This is not the result of anything Father James has personally done, but the confessor was raped as a child by a priest and intends to make a statement about the atrocities of the Catholic Church. As Father James continues with his week, he is faced with seeing his small Irish community in a whole new light.
Calvary is an unflinching examination of the festering problems of Irish society. With the proclamation of his upcoming death in the opening scene, Father James’ eyes are opened to the underlying sickness of his community. Alcohol abuse, casual racism, the banking crisis and the general corruption of the Catholic Church are all examined through the lens of black comedy. And black it is, for as the week goes on, Father James finds his faith in God and his community greatly tested.
He begins to see just how little he is respected in his community despite all of the support he gives. In one particularly harsh scene, he is walking down a road and bumps into a preteen girl. They have a nice chat and then her father drives up fast, yells at her to get into the car and questions Father James with great suspicion before driving away. Despite his good intentions, the general corruption of the church has led to suspicion and indeed aggression against this “good” priest. Considering the power dynamics in Ireland where the Catholic Church has always dominated culturally, actions in recent years has caused irreparable damage to reputations of priests.
With a title like Calvary, which is a biblical reference to the place where Christ was crucified, it is easy to see that Father James is supposed to be a modern-day martyr. He is presented with all of the stereotypical challenges of martyrdom throughout the film. As a witness to the great problems within his society and his religion, he faces trials and tribulations in order to hopefully create something better. And indeed he does, for despite the dark and violent nature of the film, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just as hopefully there is hope for Ireland and the Catholic Church as a whole. ( )
This year the Berlin Film festival concentrated on the Church. Several films looked not only at religious subjects but the structure behind the philosophy of religious belief. The first film that reflected this was Calvary by Irish director John Michael McDonagh which, according to the gospels, is the site where Jesus was crucified and is located outside the walls of Jerusalem. This foreshadows an Agatha-Christie-like plot where the good Father James (Gleeson) is given a sinister seven days warning that he will be killed during confession. The plot thickens as he inspects his parish to find the person who made this threat. We know from the beginning that the man making this threat had been abused by his priest while growing up and someone needs to pay for that sin.
After finishing the film The Guard, in 2013, McDonagh and Gleeson were sitting in a pub discussing the current reputation of the church; they predicted that there would be many films made to illustrate that point. But Gleeson had a very strong connection to the church when he was young and said that the father had been a mentor and someone who really cared about the people. McDonagh decided at that point to write a clever and witty script following the five steps of grief. The film is chalk-full of dysfunctional characters trying to find their way in life. They see the good father, while, at the same time, are all trying to wait and watch him fall. So step by step the plot is full of surprises with a dark humor.
Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh director of The Guard with Brendan Gleeson takes his principle actor (Gleeson) and brings him to Calvary. McDonagh casts Gleeson as the ideal Catholic Priest, Father James in his latest film Calvary about a caring and good-natured man with a regretful past.
On Sunday's confession hour, one of Father James' parishioners confides in the priest about his childhood and how he was sexually abused by the town priest. He can no longer handle the emotional suffering. The man's confession is made ahead of time, which he will regret and pay for at a later date.
He confesses he will kill Father James the following Sunday. By making a statement of intent, the parishioner feels compelled to take the kind and gracious Father James as a clerical representative for the sexual predator because the abusing priest was dead. The parishioner needs freedom from his tormented soul of the inflicted cruelty. He chooses the good Father James to pay for his colleagues’ misbehavior.
Father James calmly tries to reason with the parishioner to forgive the abuser for his wrong-doing and not take his anger out on Father James as a scape goat – an innocent priest who has no past of misconduct with children.
Seven days and counting. Father James takes his parishioner seriously. He has seven days to get his house in order. Making amends with his daughter Fiona (Reilly) is top priority. She has never forgiven him for leaving her after his wife (and her mother) died to enter the priesthood.
The week of penance for Father James coincides with another week at the parish caring for the flock he loves. Each day he deals with a new situation involving a different parishioner-- involving jailing the man who burns down his little parish. The week passes quickly. Sunday comes and goes as does the destiny of good Father James.