Saturday, January 30, 2016

Movie Review-- Calvary (2014)

Today the Bear is dressed up for no reason. White shirt, khaki pants, an argyle sweater and a tie. With airplanes on it. It feels good, gentlemen. It feels especially good in church, making the Bear wonder why he is the only one who dresses up, with the occasional exception. Granted, having been a lawyer gives him the wardrobe and ability to pull it off, but any man can do it if he really wants to. Learn to tie a nice Windsor knot. That's the one the Bears use.

Just something to think about. Consider it the stuff that you sit through before the movie starts.


The Bear would like to talk about a move. At the same time he would like to share his mate's experience as one who takes the Blessed Sacrament to the hospital. There is a tie-in.

We recently had a lively discussion of Catholic or Catholic-friendly movies. Many of you had your own suggestions, for which the Bear is grateful. He wants to watch every single one. A very thoughtful one, although hard to watch, is 2014's indie film, Calvary.

It stars Brendan Gleeson, best known for playing "Mad-Eye" Moody in the Harry Potter film adaptations. In Calvary, he gives an excellent, wide-ranging performance as Father James, the parish priest of a small Irish town. Father James seems world weary, and frequently has to apologize when he gives a flip or sarcastic answer. He's not perfect. He can drink and even brawl.  Nonetheless, he serves his parishioners with love and dedication.


The movie begins with Father James hearing a surprising confession. A man explicitly details his sexual abuse by a priest when he was seven years old. He then tells Father James that he is going to kill him. The reason he has chosen Father James is because he is a good priest. The man gives him a week, and will meet him on the beach. The film follows the events of the next seven days, to the final encounter on the beach. 

It is later revealed that Father James knows who the man is. His effete, rose-sniffing bishop advises him to go to the police. Throughout the movie, the tension builds as we do not know what the good priest will do.

During Mass, different members of the parish are shown taking communion. During the next few days, we learn that, despite Father James' efforts, this is some kind of parish of the damned. The same people who took communion are not only sinners, but proud of their sins. 

Father James endures the taunts of an atheist doctor, the sexual burlesque of a parishioner's rent boy, the teasing of an adulteress, and a frank discussion by her lover about how Irish women like to be hit. Father James is there for them, but does not suffer fools -- or unrepentant sinners -- gladly.

Father James realizes, as his time is running out, that despite his best efforts, the town is full of unrepentant sinners who openly despise him. As the day of his encounter approaches, the violence directed agains him and his church escalates.  

Father James had been married, but his wife died shortly after giving birth to a daughter. He is visited by the daughter, who has recently slashed her wrists. ("Long ways, not across," everyone offers helpfully.) She blames him for leaving her after her mother died. Her father became a priest and went to Africa, leaving her alone. Another matter to resolve before Sunday, on the beach.

When the day arrives, Father James is spiritually prepared, a willing sacrifice if the man who threatened to kill him shows up and goes through with it. He must think, however, that by any earthly standard, the town stands as a monument to Satan's victory over him.


The title gives away much. Father James is a Christ figure, despised for his goodness, and taunted by sinners. He vicariously bears the guilt of the Church for failing to address the homosexual abuse of children, and must confess that he did not cry when he read about it. A chance encounter with a little girl is interrupted by an angry father, who assumes that Father James must be a child molester.

The younger priest that serves with Father James has not gotten to know his parishioners, and is disliked even more than Father James. He worries whether calling a man "black" is politically correct. He only seems to light up when the town's rich man offers to give a large donation. Eventually, the young priest is run out of town, and Father James' last words to him are "You have no integrity." Father James, on the other hand, is always shown out visiting his flock, even when he knows they despise him.

Between his detached bishop, serenely enjoying his rose garden, and the shallow priest that serves with him, Father James seems to be a rarity -- a priest with integrity.

He says there is too much talk about sin and not enough about virtue. When asked what he thought was the greatest virtue, he says, "Forgiveness is highly underrated." This is especially significant under his circumstances. A man who cannot forgive has threatened his life. And at the same time, would he be able to forgive that man? Would he be able to forgive if he were that man? How about the cruelty of his parishioners?

The film's last shot recalls that line in a tender, if indirect way.

Calvary is the place where it looked like the goodness of God died. Jerusalem, and its people, stood as a monument to Satan's apparent victory. The question Calvary leaves you with is, did Satan win, or was Father James right when he said, "My time will never be gone."

The Bear gives it 4/5 fish, with the caveat that it is a heavy movie with a couple of difficult scenes. There is also some mordant humor. The Bear thinks the Church Sexual Abuse cow should have run out of milk by now,  but is under the impression it is an institution in Ireland. He supposes it is more of a MacGuffin here, since it is not dwelt on. Others might see it as central.

The Hospital

The Bear's mate visits the hospital to provide the Blessed Sacrament to Catholics, and be on hand to call the priest if necessary. Patients' religion is noted in their records, so she goes from room to room with her pyx. We also obtain rosaries to hand out if people want them.

She recounts how few Catholics want the Blessed Sacrament. Many treat it of no importance and are even rude to her, especially if visitors are present. They need to prove something. Often she will return home without having given a single person the Blessed Sacrament. Once again, Jesus is present, and people mock Him and reject Him.


  1. That looks like a good film. I probably can't take it, I have to balance out the world with happy films.
    Imagine bringing Jesus to the sick. And His being rejected again and again. How good of Mrs. Bear to do it. She suffers with Him. You do too because it's hard to watch. People today don't just reject Him, they reject Him with venom.

  2. I think it's true that ex-Catholics are one of the largest "denominations" in the U.S. The Bear went to his groomer and looks quite distinguished, if he may say so for himself. Almost patriarchal. Afterwards we went back by the hospital to give a rosary to a lady who had wanted one. We buy them in bulk from Catholic Supply, the Bear's advertiser.

  3. Bless your dear lady...bringing our least grace walked by...

    Regarding movie...interesting,and yet places very violent physically ...perhaps representing spiritual violence that takes place unseen...

    1. Bear thought it was sort of funny to see Father's bleeding knuckles after the brawl, then the face of the other guy. Bear fears he might have done much worse to those miserable people.

  4. An argyle sweater and a tie with airplanes on it?!!!
    Bear, are you sure about those airplanes? You might need style advise.

    Forgive me for this criticism. I am sure you looked fine.

    I want to see the movie now. I will.

    1. Well, as the tie is beneath the argyle sweater vest, it works just fine. It does kind of defeat the purpose of wearing a tie with airplanes on it, though. I found the movie on Netflix DVD.

      Just leaving the house to go see that movie about the bear, even though it's a fake CGI bear. Still, it's rare that anyone makes an entire movie about a bear.

  5. Just watched that movie today. Startling movie. My son noticed my level of intensity and asked about it. A good priest is a rare rate thing. He gave himself for his people just as Christ did.

    May God bless your wife for her efforts at the hospital. God sees.

  6. Calvary is a really good movie. I'm sure experts could draw all sorts of interesting conclusions and deductions and abstractions from it. It's that kind of movie. I can't. I'm not nearly that smart. All I know is that as I watched it through to the end, it was a really good story. I loved that faithful, brooding, bulldog Priest. It is a tale I could relate to. The Priest's confusion, bafflement, weakness, and lack of clarity or sure paths placed together with his immense good will and sense of dogged responsibility was a figure I could relate to and admire. I love people like that. I came out much the better for having watched it. Still with me a year after seeing it.

  7. I thought EMCs taking the Eucharist to the sick had to be designated for a specific instance, like, to specific people. It seems like they should have to arrange for it ahead of time with the priest/deacon. Or maybe it's just time I give Ecclesiae de Mysterio and Redemptionis Sacramentum another read through.

  8. Taking the Eucharist to the hospital can be a discouraging task. We've encounter people who are vicious in their refusal...yet they registered as "Catholic." Why? We recently encountered a woman who was clearly nearing death. She hadn't been inside the Church for years, didn't want any of the material we offered, and said she didn't want to see a priest. So sad. All we can do is pray, "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do."
    BTW In addition to the rosaries, we also carry a small booklet on how to pray the rosary. (We've encountered people who tearfully confessed they've forgotten how.) We also make sure every EMHC going to the hospital has copies of the OSV pamphlet "Top 10 Reason to Come Back to the Catholic Church." Leave it on the tray table and hope the Holy Spirit takes it from there.
    Keep up the good work...Peace & Blessings.

    1. We will follow up on your good ideas. As for why list "Catholic" if you can't be bothered with actually being Catholic, the late Roger Ebert described himself as a "Catholic Atheist." Baptism leaves its mark, even if it doesn't mean much to many. (And he probably thought he was being clever.)

      My wife is a shy person, and I know what it costs her to go into a room to be rejected.

    2. I'm saddened to read that your good wife brings Our Lord to the sick, only because many of them may not be in the state of grace. This is the danger of no priest doing his duty. The Blessed Sacrament is NOT a 'medicine' for the sick. No Confession? Get the priest in there and have him offer Confession first. If the priest is too busy ask him what he is too busy doing!

    3. Provisions are made for those who wish to confess. I'm curious why you would assume that my wife believes the Blessed Sacrament is "medicine" to cure the sick. She is not there to to perform some healing ritual in ignorance, but to provide the opportunity for Catholics who cannot otherwise receive the Blessed Sacrament to do so, should they so wish. Many patients do decline because they haven't been to confession in a long time.

      Judging from how few people go to confession compared to the 100% participation in the Communion line, the same complaint might be made about those at Mass, who receive communion from the priest. Maybe he should stop giving the Blessed Sacrament at Mass, since most of the people receiving are probably not in a state of grace.

      Every person has the responsibility for their own worthy communion, no matter what the circumstances. It is questionable to assume that communicants in the hospital are not in a state of grace.

      She prays along with people, she distributes rosaries, she provides examinations of conscience, and she notifies the priest when necessary when someone wants to confess, or is dying.

      Catch up to the new normal. Priests will soon be a luxury in the West due to Catholic Total Fertility Rate in free fall. Priests are being spread thin over multiple parishes, where parishes are not closing entirely. This is not to say lay persons should assume the sacramental roles of priests, but that the assumption that priest is "not doing his job" may be less and less charitable in coming years.

      I see nothing wrong in what she is doing. Should a person decide to take communion when they know they are not in a state of grace, that is their responsibility, and they will bear the penalties. In the meantime, many faithful Catholics in a state of grace who cannot go to Mass may be strengthened and comforted by Our Lord.

  9. My wife and I saw this film in Bantry, County Cork, Ireland (where we live) when it was first released. I found the characterizations and plot line so improbable, the atmosphere so relentlessly despairing, the finale so predictable that I left the cinema with the feeling that I had just watched a nasty over the top malevolent caricature of life, human relationships, the priesthood, and Ireland.

    This was no morality tale by any stretch of the imagination. The only empathy I had was for the priest's dog.

    As a Catholic, I do not recommend the movie to a-n-y-o-n-e. Notwithstanding my take on the movie, I find Brendan Gleeson a superlative actor.

    1. Tell us how you really feel, Your Honor ;-) I was interested in hearing your take. Perhaps it plays differently outside of Ireland. There is indeed a paucity of sympathetic characters and they are broadly drawn. I wasn't sure about the ending, but the title is kind of a spoiler. It might have been by the Cohen Brothers, or, er, Cohen Brother and Sister as I understand the situation to be now. (Looking forward to their new one, Hail Caesar starring George Clooney coming out the 5th.)

    2. If you want to have a look at a real Irish film, Bear, I most heartily recommend "The Field" (1990) Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie McCabe, et. al. It even has an American in it come to find his Irish roots (Tom Berenger).

      If you want to watch another grand Irish film there is "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (2006) with Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, etc. A true morality tale that one and the film was shot within a stone's throw of my home in West Cork.

    3. By the way, Bear, I warmly and personally recommend the (1991) Irish films "The Commitments" and the third offering of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, "The Van" (1996), both starring Irish actor Colm Meaney. Rock and roll and friendship play prominent roles.

      The second of the trilogy, "The Snapper", was a bot too coarse for my tastes.

      If you are inclined toward the crushingly oppressive plot and yet with an unexpected moral undertone, I suggest "Adam and Paul", a 2004 film about two heroin-addicted friends in Dublin.

      Those who have an interest in Irish films can always search the Irish Film Board website.


  10. Sounds depressing. Thanks for the heads up. Will avoid.

    Seattle kim

  11. Glad you finally watched it, Bear. I think the town folk were purposefully caricaturized as various representations of the seven deadly sins. Many people didn't catch on to that, and were put off by it. Great Catholic movie if you ask me, we spent a long time talking about it afterwards and trying to understand what we had just witnessed. How many movies can you say that about??


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