To be honest, I expected Calvary to be a somewhat plodding movie. I thought it would be “Gee, it was good, but kinda slow.”
Instead, it begins with a bang. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is in the confessional, but instead of a confession, he is given an unrepentant threat to his life. The “confessor” tells of having been molested for several years by a Priest. Father James asks if he has sought therapy or made an accusation. But this sick priest is dead, so the confessor feels there is no chance for justice there. And really, what good would it do to take his life were he still alive? No, the confessor believes a truly bolder statement would be to kill a good and trusted priest. He gives Father James one week to get his affairs in order.
As the week proceeds, Father James does little to try and prevent this threat to occur, instead, he tries to go about his life, helping the community around him, trying to help a community that has given up hope heal. You wonder who might be the person who made the threat…Father James seems to recognize the voice. And even when they meet on that fateful day, Father James seeks to bring healing. Knowing what he may be going towards, he still takes the time to connect with the people in his community. He seeks to help the man who has made it his purpose to end Father James’ life.
There is a great exchange that occurs late in the film…Father James is speaking with his daughter and says, “There is too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.” His daughter asks, “What would be your number one?” He responds, “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.”
There is another bit about how dangerous people are who want to be hated and despised. I think that is true. There is a bizarre form of self righteousness that can occur in people who enjoy being hated. They feel as if being hated justifies their belief. People hate them because they are right.
Calvary is full of sly, dark humor and emotion. It is easy to root for Gleeson, for he is a good priest. This is not a story where we find out that he harbors all sorts of dark secrets. No, he genuinely seems to care about his community. He loves his daughter and feels regrets for retreating after her mother died.
It is a very well written film that is worth seeing. If I had seen it last year? It (like Locke) would have made my top ten of 2014 list.
I was asked what the title of the film means. I believe my explanation is correct…but it is a huge spoiler to reveal it. So read on only if you want to ruin the ending of the film.
The title is Calvary because Gleeson’s Father James walks knowingly to his death. He could run, but instead, meets his death, and he brings no weapon to defend himself. He is shot in his side…he does not denounce his killer, but rather reaches out to him, his death occurs in empathy for his killer, not anger. In a way, I suspect he accepts his killers thesis, that his death will shock the community in a way the death of a guilty man would not.