Sometimes a movie surprises with its depth and and breadth.
And you wouldn’t think that a film primarily consisting of two
old guys talking would be so mesmerizing.
But this one is. And
not just because it’s a true story.
But because it touches on truths that affect us all.
Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) is elected by the College of
Cardinals in 2005, at the age of 78. He’s
German, and a staunch conservative. He
feels it’s the Church’s place to safeguard its centuries of tradition.
The cardinal who received the 2nd most ballots, Jorge
Bergoglio of Venezuela (Jonathan Pryce), was personally relieved to have
not been chosen. He would much
rather go home to Buenos Aires, live like a simple parish priest, work
with the poor, enjoy the national football (soccer) team, and finish his
ministry in comfortable obscurity. In
fact, he had resolved to officially submit his retirement papers, which
had to be signed by “Il Papa” himself, so Cardinal Bergoglio journeys
to Rome to ask for his release from his duties.
Pope Benedict greets him with a distinct air of emotional distance,
at first. They disagree on
practically every current issue facing the Church.
Benedict even implies that Bergoglio has exceeded the boundaries of
Orthodoxy, but that implication practically makes Bergoglio apoplectic.
He pleads his case that he simply believes the Church needs to do
more to address the concerns of the world, including poverty.
And to be more willing to serve communion to divorcees, and
homosexuals, and others considered “sinners,” because Christ gave the
sacrament not as an exclusive meal for the righteous, but as spiritual
food for the sinner. Bergoglio
is particularly distressed about the Church’s lack of response to all
the accusations of clergy sexual abuse.
After several sharp exchanges, finally Benedict asks that they
simply sit together for a while in peace.
It’s obvious he's working toward some rapprochement.
But Bergoglio is flabbergasted when Benedict finally tells him:
he intends to resign. Yes,
to renounce the Papacy. And he
sincerely hopes that Bergoglio will be elected as his successor by the
College of Cardinals, because the Church needs leadership in a new
Now Bergoglio is distressed in a different way.
He tells the Pope about all the ways he messed up in his younger
years, as a by-the-rules Jesuit who refused to recognize the validity of
the ministry of his colleagues who were actively seeking a political
revolution in Argentina. To
this day, he regrets his obduracy, and the way his fellow priests paid
dearly for their social activism. Bergoglio
also recalls how close he came to ignoring his calling as a priest, in
fact he had actually proposed to a young lady he thought he was in love
with. Benedict responds that
he felt he wasn’t worldly enough when he was younger---content to be
alone with his books, and now he is truly alone.
Their revelations of humanity are endearing to the viewer, because
at least in front of each other, they admit their flawed personhood, which
allows both of them to pronounce absolution with a liberating fervor.
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are marvelous in their roles.
Director Fernando Meirelles reminds us of the religious trappings
by panning to some of the spectacular religious art surrounding the
Vatican. He takes seriously
the solemn assemblies of the Church while still revealing the character
flaws of its clergy, inviting the viewer to experience that emotional
tension along with the clerics themselves.
It’s a masterful invoking of the complexity of personal spiritual
journey. And who isn’t
charmed by the bucolic picture of the two Popes enjoying a pizza and an
orange drink together?
This one is worth seeing, no matter where you consider yourself to
be on the whole religious/spiritual spectrum.
Its personal relevance is surprisingly impactful.