15 years ago my long friend Denis Haack, lover of God and the world that he is—and editor of Critique –asked me to write an article for him on the challenge of watching a difficult movie. I chose “Magnolia,” as at that time it was just that, and as much so as anything I had seen for a long time. Thoughtful and violent, tender and crude, heart-warming and heart-aching, and just the kind of movie most of us should see.
Last week Meg and I went with a few neighbors to see another hard movie, “Calvary.” A film set on the western coast of Ireland in County Sligo, it is the story of a Catholic priest and his parish. The story starts with a confession, words spoken and heard between the priest and one of his people, and the meaning of that conversation ripples through the movie from beginning to end, bringing both tragedy and mercy.
I won’t tell anything that ruins the film for anyone. But like “Magnolia,” this too is thoughtful and violent, tender and crude, heart-warming and heart-aching. The director said he wanted to make a movie about a good priest; that there had been too many stories about bad ones. What he offers us is a good man in a bad world. Not a romanticized character, nothing white-washed at all, but instead someone that we understand. The best stories, of course, tell the truth about the human condition, insisting that we face both our glory and our shame– and the priest is just that, like all the rest of us.
But he is honestly a good man who wants to do what is right and just and fair—even when it costs him everything he is and has. We rarely see and hear stories like that. Very rarely.
“Calvary”? Well, you will have to see it for yourself. I confess that when I first saw the title, I was put off, sure I wouldn’t want to see it. But then I read a review, and was drawn in by the moral seriousness of the story. The film follows the priest for a week in his life, from Sunday to Sunday, and before the tale is over, we have to face the worst that man can do to man, the most horrible act one human can do to another– but we also must ponder the gift of grace, the strange mercy that is sometimes seen, even in this very wounded world.
(The article I wrote for Critique can be found here: http://www.ransomfellowship.org/articledetail.asp?AID=131&B=Steven+Garber&TID=2)