Arts & Culture

Movie Review: Calvary

Michael Olderr, Layout Editor

Calvary is an Irish drama directed by John Michael McDonagh starring Brendan Gleeson. The film dives into the life of a Catholic priest, who one day in a confessional is told that he is going to die in about a week. The film’s setting takes place during a major scandal in the Catholic Church. It is not a film for the light-hearted, as the materials it covers are dark, but it is one that is worthy of being called a cinematic masterpiece.

Brendan Gleeson does an almost divine job as Father James, the priest in the movie. It’s hard to describe what makes his role so good in this film because his character and acting are something to behold. Father James struggles to find a reason to continue his ministry in the modern day, especially as the village folk around him are becoming more and more detached from the church, seeing him and what he stands for more of a joke than anything else. He is treated almost as a criminal to those who once came every Sunday, and it’s worse now that the widespread abuse has been revealed.

Gleeson does a wonderful job projecting his character’s conflicting emotions. He is not a perfect man, but he is loyal and caring for those among them. He does his best, even though he is beaten down by everyone around him. Gleeson perfectly captures the desperation of a man who acknowledges the evil and darkness of the world but struggles with how or if he should deal with it. The performance is even more profound when you learn that Gleeson himself was abused by a person in the Catholic Church. This gives his performance a new level that is as tragic as it is poetic.

This film throws so much at you. It delves into dark corners of the human psyche, all the while showing a speck of hope. The ongoing mystery of who threatens the father is engaging and will leave you guessing all the way to the end. And it’s not even until you revisit the movie in your head after the credits roll that you can find the movie’s genius. The small details and interactions of the townsfolk, and even to an extent Father James, make you genuinely question whether the characters are good people or not. It’s scary and depressing as we see each scene and character interaction unfold though that movie, making it as interesting as it is hard to watch–because all of the townsfolk in some way feel justified in their actions and see no fault in it. It becomes less about James’ struggle and we are forced to ask: are these people, and by extension God, worth saving? Even if they don’t want it?

There are also little details scattered throughout the film showing the inspirations behind the characters. Everything that is presented in the film reflects back to the Bible in some way shape or form, although not always in a positive light. It’s by far one of the most powerful films made in the past decade.

Calvary is a brilliant and well-executed film. It’s not some glorious montage on why God is good, nor does it have a rushed message about why God is great, but it gives you a real, if borderline pessimistic, view of the world and tells you to do better. It is a Christian story, but one that recognizes the sins of the church and those involved. Even with all its dark subjects, it still reminds us that, despite what we might think, there is good in the world.