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'Calvary' Battles the Dark Forces of Religion

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Calvary

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Over the years, the exact prevalence of religion—once a practice of every living individual—has begun to diminish. Even a land that predominantly houses Catholicism has seen many members stray from its church doors and holy hands. Father James Lavelle, a priest played by Brendan Gleeson, seems to be a hopeless believer who's surrounded by a heap of obnoxious, disrespectful townsfolk—a priest who seeks to absolve humanity from the remnants of sin that still plague it, still naïve enough to realize that goal is frankly impossible. In a world of drunkards, murderers, adulterers, rapists—there is no saving grace. This determined idea of forgiveness and cleansing fixed into Father James' devout mind might very well be his downfall—an idea of terrible ignorance, especially considering the fact that he belongs to a faith organization that has persistently concealed atrocious acts of child sexual abuse and the like for many decades.

Are these mean-spirited neighbors not justified in staring at this priest as if they were to spit in his face any minute, bearing in mind his profession and ties? Parents of this town are frightened for their kids, and though Gleeson in particular is good-natured and harmless, the mere sight of him accompanying a pre-adolescent immediately distresses the mother and father as they instantly grab their child with disgust on their face pointed at this poor old man. But again, the situation is so complicated and the multifarious angles described in such a predicament can be deemed understandable from the appropriate perspective. Those parents don't know Father James to the extent that we do, and to them, he's another one from the Catholic Church.

Despite being an Atheist myself, Calvary nonetheless paints a complex picture of a world divided—a film of great depth in its spirituality and philosophy. The majority of the movie is spent in local pubs and homes, laying witness to rich conversations between Gleeson and struggling townspeople whether it concerns his suicidal daughter (Kelly Reilly), a corrupt, yet conscience-stricken, banker (Dylan Moran), or an elderly man on the brink of death, enjoying the sound of a typewriter's clinking as he writes his final story (M. Emmet Walsh). A grim and depressing film this sure is, yet markedly powerful and thought-provoking as well. It advances on to ask questions and leaves us in wonderment. From an atheistic standpoint, it still left me with sympathy for this goodhearted man despite the fact that he was a downright preacher.

At the start, it seems like Gleeson's authority reigns supreme over the town. Being a priest, the people address him as so and welcome him to tête-à-tête, but as the narrative progresses, these same people increase in hostility and insolence as if the events over the past few days have suddenly changed their position. Once again, one of the most important issues this tale touches on is the infamous string of rape cases within the church hierarchy. In Ireland, alone, an influx of 9000 statutory rape reports came in in a single day when child sexual abuse truly came to light back in the 1970's—back when the hypocritical wickedness behind those sanctimonious quarters was gradually revealing itself to the faithful and the doubters alike.

And in this case, Calvary begins with an unknown individual who enters the confessional to discuss his prior sins with Gleeson only to actually begin spouting his utter anger at the church, recalling his years of youth when he "first tasted semen at the mere age of 7." His abhorrence for the clergy has stayed with him to this day and to the point where he vows to murder an innocent priest (Gleeson) as he was once attacked as an innocent boy—the desecration of purity or decency (though this man is not aware of the fact that Father James was once an alcoholic and fought with his own fair share of sins; he's not exactly the most guiltless being anyway).

Similar to last year's Philomena, Calvary emphasizes and criticizes the various facets that have wounded the Catholic Church's public image and forever changed many people's views of these institutions. Now, this movie is quite interesting on a tonal level because at times, it can be exhaustingly tragic and somber, but at the same time—every now and then— the witty style of the script will force you to guffaw at the expense of very serious subject matter. It's a tricky area, but Calvary's particular genre would best be listed as "dark, dark comedy"—the darkest of black comedies. Nevertheless, its mixture of humor, sincere/thoughtful themes, and a memorably tragic tale allowed this drama to cast its lasting effects into my mind long after I've concluded it.

Even though its stance and thematic material is substantially more ambiguous in comparison to Philomena's and some of the motives are left frustratingly opaque to the audience, the film just couldn't leave my thoughts. I would instantly recall its melancholy, Celtic score, its gorgeous and gloomily-lit cinematography (notice that the film cuts from the increasing hopelessness/bleakness of the narrative to shots of roaring waves and darkened nature as if to symbolize the ineluctable storm that the ultimate end of this tale is to bring), and the soulful emotion that drives the narrative forward. Calvary, much like another recent picture (A Most Wanted Man), delves you into contemplation over heavily controversial issues that continue to bedevil society into perpetual argument.

Guest Reviewer

Movie Muscle

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