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2016年4月10日 星期日

Calvary (七日告別)

It's never easy to be a Catholic priest. It's even more difficult to be one in the contemporary world, where, except in places like Korea and the PRC, church attendance in Europe and America is dwindling by the week: a Catholic priest's soul is burdened with just too many dark and shady secrets of the human psyche in the most intimate details within that tiny enclosed space behind the screen of the "Confessional box" every week, notionally protected by absolute confidentiality. Will he be tempted from such frank revelations to abandon his faith in an omnipotent, omniscient and all merciful God who is the most perfect idealisation of unconditional love and mercy? This seems to be the issue explored by director John Michael McDonagh in Calvary (2014) which opens most dramatically in the confessional, when a priest heard a confession that a man first tasted semen at age seven from another priest, something which marked him for life because that lasted some 5 years. He told the voice on the other side to report it but was told that that priest had long died. Then he was told by that voice that to seek compensation, he must kill another priest, not a bad one but a good priest. He asked whether the intended murderer had anyone in mind. He was told to go to the local beach on the following Sunday and in the meantime to make all necessary preparations. Who might that killer be? We are kept guessing until the end of the film. The priest, Father James is played by Brendan Gleeson.


The scene switches to Father James giving the Holy Eurcharist to a number of parishioners and after mass, the exchanges between him and the young altar boy telling the boy that he noticed that of late some wine from the wine cabinet had kept disappearing and he knew why but was met with a silent impudent look from that boy, neither admitting nor denying. Then we are shown an exchange between Father James and another young priest, Father Leary (David Wilmot) about one of the married women sleeping around. He instantly guessed who it was and said he would pay him a visit but was warned by Father Leary's the church's policy of not getting involved in any matter involving any racial element. Father James paid  visit to the woman's husband, Jack Brennan (Chris O'Dowd), the local butcher, accused of beating his wife Veronica (Orla O'Rourke) and asked him about his relation with her and was told that he did not beat her up. John Brennan admitted that he knew what her wife was doing behind his back but said he felt indifferent and sometimes even a bit relieved that she was doing so.

Then we see Father James approach the local bishop Gary Montgomery (
David McSavage) who asked him whether he knew who the suspect of the threat death was but said he did not and was told that he had to make up his own mind on whether he wanted to report the matter to the police. Father James then decided to talk to Veronica, who openly suggested that she was not going to stop and might even enjoy being "compelled" to do certain things. Father James then approached her lover Simon (Isaach de Bankolé), a black car mechanic from the Ivory Coast and met with a hostile response and was told that what happened between him and Veronica was none of his business.

In the meantime, we are shown how Father James's daughter Fiona Lavelle (Kelly Reilly) who had just tried unsuccessfully to slit her own wrist  visit him to seek consolation and was met on the road by the local millionaire Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) whose wife and daughter had deserted him  and is now living all alone in his huge mansion and making flippant remarks about how beautiful the girl was and was told that Fiona was his daughter. He was told to go Michael's house a few days later for a financial proposition in which Father James might be interested. He went. Michael told Father James he wished to make some amends for many of the bad things that he did and wanted to make some donations to the local church because he said cynically, the church would certainly be in need of money on account of the huge sums of compensations it had to pay for the sexual abuses of its priests. He told Father James that to him money did not mean anything to him. To prove that he even pissed on one of the most expensive paintings in his huge mansion. Seeing that Michael was not truly penitent but merely wished to make a display of his financial muscles, Father James left. 

Before the fateful Sunday arrived, we are shown Father James consoling Teresa (
Marie-Josée Croze), a French tourist whose husband  whom she dearly loved died in a motor accident, attended to by the militant atheist Dr. Frank Harte at the village hospital (Aidan Gillen), who we later see taking  cocaine with Veronica at the men's room in the middle of a local party. To mock his God, Dr. Harte deliberately told Father James the story of how he had once dealt with a three year-old child who was the victim of a medical negligence which resulted in his being blind, deaf, dumb and paralyzed for the rest of his life, living in a world of complete silence and darkness and suggested that it was a bit like the silenced victims of sexual abuses. Father James was infuriated by the sniggering and got into a fight with Dr. Harte but was restrained by the others. At the party we also meet Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott), a waiter at the local pub who had never had a girl friend  all his life,  looking at the other boys dancing and having fun with the young ladies. Milo had approached Father James previously at the church on a weekday and told the priest he had visited all the porn sites and seen all porn magazines but found that they were of no help and that he couldn't think of any way of solving his sexual frustration except by joining the army to engage in some legal killing to relieve such frustrations but was advised that killing is wrong under any circumstances and that it might be better if he were to go to Dublin, London or Paris to seek better opportunities of finding a girl friend.

Then we see Father James visiting a
young cannibalistic serial women killer Freddie Joyce (Dombnall Glesson) in prison at  the latter's request . There Freddie told him he never meant to hurt the women but somehow felt a certain delight in doing so. He did his best to ask Freddie to repent but left in frustration because it was obvious Freddie was not really sincere when he said he was sorry.

Father James also visited a very old writer (M Emmet Walsh) living all alone in an out of the way cottage. The writer told Father James he felt the senselessness of continuing living if one lived like a human vegetable and was thinking of a means of ending his life when that happened. He complained that he was losing his abilities by the day and asked Father James if he could help him get a gun. Then we see Father James visiting Inspector Stanton (Gary Lydon) who had just finished making love to a male prostitute Leo (Owen Sharpe) who boasted of having most of the men in the area as his clients including some clergymen. He asked for and got a gun for the old writer, thinking that the gun was intended for the mercy killing of Father James' old dog.

Whilst on the beach path during a break, he met a little girl (Anabel Sweeney) on the same path and asked how she was but was told that her father forbade her to do anything but hardly had the conversation started than a car sped past, abruptly stopped and peering out of the window was an extremely suspicious and angry looking father who instantly ordered her to get into his car, presumably from hearing too many horror stories of sex-starved clergymen taking advantage little girls.

Faced with all the frustrations and tauntings by so many parishioners and meeting so many frustrations, in particular those from Dr. Harte, Father James went to the local pub to get drunk. He was told by the local bar-tender that his pub would soon be foreclosed by the mortgagee bank because of repeated late mortgage payments and asked if it was fair that banks had the right to charge so much interest and was told it was not but there's little God can do. When it was closing up time, he still wanted another drink, he was rudely told that he had to take orders from others too and that for too long the priest had been so accustomed to giving orders to others that they might have forgotten that sometimes, he had to listen to other's orders too. He fell silent and was pushed out


Just before the fateful day, his daughter made up with him after complaining that he deserted her to go into priesthood shortly after he lost his wife and she her mother. He apologised to her and asked her to forgive him. She did. Then his church got burnt down. This was followed by his dog being slit on the throat. He then visited Michael with Father Leary. Michael offered him $10,000 euros and repeated that money meant nothing to him. Father James  then said in that case, why not offer $50,000 euros. Michael then offered $20,000. Father Leary was overjoyed and sycophantly thanked Michael for this great gift. But Father James insisted on $50,000. He was $100,000. Michael said as he had done many bad things in his life and apologized for what he did the last time Father James was in his house. He repeated that he would need to make some amends and again repeated that money meant nothing to him anyway.


On the fateful day. Father James went to the beach. In the distance, we see a figure in a white shirt approaching. It was Jack Brennan, the butcher with a gun in his hand. Father James stood erect, facing him. He told him it was not too late for Jack to change his mind. He asked him why he had to kill his dog. Jack sneered that he should be so concerned with his dog and asked him if he felt the same pain for the victims of sexual abuses from the clergy. Father James answered honestly. He did not. He was shot on the stomache. Then he continued to ask Jack to change his mind. Jack told him life meant nothing to him now and he did not care where he would go after his own death. He pulled the trigger again. This time, it went right through the forehead of Father James. He bore it for the sins of the church. It was his Calvary.
McDonagh said the film was meant as a comedy. If so, it was the blackest of comedy, a comedy which leaves us feeling that unlike the young priest who is too slow to deal with real human problems and too quick to bow to money, Father James never judges any of his parishioners, is always anxious to help, no matter how dire the circumstances might be and is not tempted by money nor is prepared to bow to power, a true Christian who lives his faith in the impossible circumstances of contemporary world, one who is not afraid even to lay down his life as the manifestation and affirmation of his faith, in the sense of "being a Christian", in the sense Søren  Kierkegaard posed the question, "how to be a Christian" 

It was a very powerful film, raising many question about the condition of the Catholic Church, not only in that little town in southern Ireland but for the Catholic Church or even Christendom as a whole: the meaning of life, of death, of sin, of salvation and of man.
Brendan Gleeson was magnificent as Father James. So were the others, especially Kelly Reilly as Father James's daughter. The cinematography of Larry Smith was also superb. It brought out the magnificent desolation of the Irish seaside, with its white waves washing the shores against the stark outcrops of basaltic rocks, as they had done for thousands of years on that Celtic coast. In the meantime, the stories of man continue to unfold relentlessly according to its own rhythms and its rules.  According to the Christian Bible, it took 7 days for the universe to be created. It took exactly 7 days for the world of the Catholic Church represented by one of its most faithful followers to be destroyed. What is the meaning of money, of love, of life?  Does life have meaning? Is there a God? If so, does he really care for mankind? If there any meaning in Father James' sacrificial death and his penance for his church? Are there any satisfactory answers?