MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The Two Popes - On Netflix Streaming
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins
The pope, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, is expected to hold the role of supreme authority for a lifetime. But Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) is ageing, tired, and in the midst of a public firestorm surrounding the release of documentation revealing decades of abuse of children by Catholic priests. He is ready to resign.
Argentinian Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Pryce) is feeling that he has compromised too often in serving the poor in his country and has failed to be outspoken against a corrupt political leadership that has tortured and killed many innocent people. Father Bergoglio makes a trip to meet with the pope, prepared to resign from the priesthood. The two men could hardly be more different, although they received their theological education from the same teachers. Bergoglio is a progressive reformer who has butted heads in the past when Pope Benedict was German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, known as a far right conservative. Upon arriving at the Vatican, Bergoglio requests the paperwork to surrender his credentials. He is made to wait, since (unbeknownst to him) the pope would like him to reconsider things and keep his name in the conversation as a possible candidate for the papacy.
The series of meetings between the then-current Pope Benedict XVI and the soon-to-become Pope Francis depicted in The Two Popes never actually took place. But what the clever and witty screenplay by Anthony McCarten does so well is put into conversation the theological differences that are a natural part of every pastoral change. Every Catholic is well aware of how each pope makes decisions that will become benchmarks for their years in authority. As this fictional meeting of deep souls takes place, the screenplay imagines the two men finding that one other person to whom they can confess their personal struggles as well as their utter dependence upon God.
It would have been simple to create a two-person play in which both accomplished actors would simply carry on with a back-and-forth dialogue. But the film includes scenes of two papal elections, extended flashbacks to Argentina, and some meticulous CGI recreations of the Vatican. We are also allowed to see our guys engage with the music of ABBA, professional soccer, Fit Bits, and pizza from “the best place in Italy”.
Trying to maintain balance, the film seems a bit easier on Pope Benedict and more demanding of Pope Francis, but this adjustment serves the screenplay’s objective of a grace-filled resolution very well.
The Two Popes is a fantasy, but it includes the best kind of theology that leaves room for the transition to a common ground that can occur when we take seriously our calling to become more and more like Christ. I cannot think of a more appropriate message to a denomination that claims the holy habits of sanctifying grace.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A respectful theological discussion about the ways in which we think about God and about ourselves.
One pitchfork: Political unrest and the aftershocks of the horrific sins of the past.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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