I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.
Calvary is a film I am predisposed to relish. With its primary theme of forgiveness and underlying tenants of religion, loss, sin and virtue, it calls out to that which is at the core of my being.
Calvary is the follow up film to The Guard from director John Michael Mcdonagh (brother of the director of In Bruges) and the final film in a trilogy exploring the ideas of death and suicide, featuring Brendan Glesson. The gloomy tone of the previous films continues, although the dark humour that distinguished the previous films is wisely turned down, due to the sensitive nature of this film’s content.
Father James (Glesson) is a Catholic priest in a small Irish town, who in the opening scene of the film has his life threatened by an unknown individual. He is given a week to live in order to get his house in order; this week combined with the threat of murder and intrigue over who the killer could be, forms the basis of the mysterious and suspenseful narrative.
It may not sound exhilarating, witnessing a week of Fr. James attending to his parishioners (Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran) and his own daughter (Kelly Reilly,). Yet the resultant tale is captivating. The film surveys the lives of the 6-9 characters through striking dialogue, beautiful visuals and poignant acting, allowing the audience a rich impression of each story within a brief space of time. Each life is fraught with mess and complexity, like our own, and yet Father James does not take the moral high ground nor offer simplistic answers laced with bad religion. Rather, he is present to all with bold yet compassionate wisdom. These mannerisms do not make him likeable to all and nor is he devoid of his own failings, but he is an honest, believable and good man.
The gift that this film offers is the sensitivity yet boldness it practices to investigate dark and difficult themes including abuse, forgiveness, suicide, love, loss and addiction. I specifically use the word gift because the viewing experience opens up a wide array of thoughts, musings, concepts and ideas to the viewer, which may have been buried or not present before watching Calvary. A communal watching of this masterpiece is bound to draw a lasting conversation out of the audience and for me, there is no more one can ask for.
Calvary – John Michael McDonagh (Reprisal, 2014)