Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd, was a birthday gift from my son, whose experience with films is far broader than my own. He really does bring me the most interesting movies, usually smaller pictures by well-regarded filmmakers. He knows what I like and so has rarely steered me wrong.
The film opens with a priest, Gleeson, listening to a confession. The person confessing tells the priest he is was the victim of inappropriate attentions from a priest when he was young, and so he has decided to kill a priest to make up for it. That this priest is completely innocent of all wrong-doing is the point because the church stole this man’s innocence, so he is going to steal innocence from the church. He tells the priest he is going to kill him on Sunday giving him a week to put his affairs in order. What proceeds from this revelation is this week in the priest’s life, and the movie is structured around each day. Gleeson knows the man, knows who is going to kill him, but we have no idea and so wonder as each new character is introduced, “Is this the one?” The character never flinches, never gives a clue, and so I was completely surprised at the end.
Why did this movie make my list when it has none of the characteristics I usually favor? Several reasons. First, Gleeson’s character is really likeable, and I was completely drawn into how he handled himself through this week of trials (not all of it is noble). Second, I loved his relationship with his troubled daughter (he was married before he became a priest) who comes to him for strength and solace when her world falls apart. Third, the quirky ensemble is truly entertaining, each desperately in need of his comfort and guidance at the same time they ridicule his faith. Last, but not least, the Irish countryside is stunningly beautiful, a character all its own as the priest walks and fishes and picnics and truly inhabits his environment.
Then there is the religious symbolism. My son knows that I love religious symbolism. Here is a man on the verge of his own death shouldering the burdens of everyone he meets. He was one of them before the priesthood: a desperate workaholic and alcoholic, failing as a husband and father. Now he is compassionate and wise, but also pragmatic. When they say or do something foolish he calls them on it. They are a ragtag bunch of sinners, but he loves them anyway.
Calvary is a beautiful, touching little movie. It is well worth the effort to find it, either on cable or Netflix or whatever means you have to access.
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