|Wikipedia entry. Holbein 'The Ambassadors'|
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
CALVARY ~ a short film review
I didn’t expect to shed tears within the first few minutes of watching CALVARY (John Michael McDonagh, 20145) this morning, but the amazing view of Benbulbin with its flat surface and sheer drop to glorious hills below and the craggy rocks of the Irish sea coast were absolutely sublime and the music composed by Patrick Cassidy made an emotion swell up in me that can only be explained by events I experienced ten to fifteen minutes before entering the cinema.
The tram I caught was held up in Bridge Road, Richmond and feeling hot and claustrophobic I got out of and walked until I reached the tram further ahead in the row. When I entered the tram, which was blocked by an ambulance, people were talking about the poor woman who had a heart attack on the tram and was now being treated. I sat next to a woman who was worried that the holdup would make her late for the funeral she was to attend. When I got off the tram the cap of a young boy was blown off by the fierce wind. I noticed it on the track and called to a man further on down the platform to pick it up if he could. He stepped onto the tracks and picked up the cap unknowing that a tram was bearing down on him. He stepped back onto the platform within seconds of the tram arriving. A less agile person might have been hit, but as it was he was safe. I couldn’t help but think that if it had gone the other way that I would have felt incredibly guilty. The child and his mother came over to thank me when I handed them the hat. I explained that it was a man who retrieved it not me. Barely two minutes later a woman tapped me on the arm and handed me my gloves, which had obviously fallen out of my pocket. I have to admit that as I walked towards the Kino Cinema in that cold, gusty wind I had an overwhelming feeling of the connectedness between people, their kindness and the strangeness of life and its unusual events.
CALVARY deals with dark events in the history of the Catholic Church and its impact on individuals sexually abused by members of the clergy within a rural Irish community. It also deals with people’s decisions and how they reconcile within themselves what is good and evil. It doesn’t pull any punches. I first tasted semen was when I was seven years old is the first words we hear in the film, delivered by a disembodied voice to a priest in a dark confessional. They are the words of a parishioner who tells the priest that he will kill him next Sunday because he is a good priest.
The film, at least in the first half, appears balanced by irony and humor, however it quickly descends into darkness that many viewers may not be comfortable with.
This is an impressive film of high intensity, beautiful scenery and magnificent acting. However that beauty is almost always outweighed by less than beautiful scenes, such as the one of freshly slaughtered beef hung in cold storage, or the scene in which Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors (1533) is urinated upon
elongated, distorted skull appears strangely out of place in this painting in which
there is order and symmetry, and in which the objects themselves point to a
rational ordered universe. It is an
uncanny reminder that no matter how much control humanity exerts over nature
that death reigns supreme.
The painting, which depicts two men, one an aristocrat, the other a clergyman is a mirror of the scene between Father James (Brendan Gleeson) and Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) the local squire who empties the contents of his bladder upon his painting. The painting also appears to divide the world equally between science and religion since both men are depicted as almost the same height; however concealed behind the green curtain on the left edge of the painting one can just make out the image of a partial crucifixion, suggesting that indeed humanism has almost displaced Christianity. John Carroll, in The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisted, 2004 argues that although the subjects of the painting represent humanism, Holbein has created a painting that shows that in the face of the ‘white terror’ of death, that humanism has no solution. ‘The most learned men have no answer to death’ (2004:33).
As expected the film broaches guilt, suicide, lust, desire, adultery, death and belief and leaves many questions unanswered. The ending is expected and final, with just a hint of the notion of forgiveness, although there are many who would not be so forgiving.