On Saturday night I watched Calvary, a movie I’d been waiting to see for some time. I’d heard good reviews both of content and of the cinematography of Western Ireland. Its not a great idea to watch a movie when you’re weary because you miss so much – and I sensed that was happening as I faded in and out and struggled to stay with the story.
The narrative is pretty dark. Set in a small Sligo town where the people live unusually immoral and depraved lives, Father James Lavelle is their parish priest and while dealing with his own messy life (deceased wife, suicidal daughter, struggle with alcohol), he tries to remain true to his calling of helping them do the right thing. Its a tough gig and he doesn’t get much encouragement from those he is called to serve in fact they taunt him and sometimes despise him – or at least the institution he stands for.
Perhaps its a reflection of the place of institutionalised ‘Christianity‘ in this secular world?
The movie opens with a confessional scene where the man doing the confessing tells of being repeatedly raped as a boy by his priest. The priest is now dead, but the man has decided that someone must pay for the crimes and for that reason he is going to kill a good priest. He lets Lavelle know he has 7 days to live and then he will meet him on a beach and shoot him.
So the film has a ‘passion’ type flavour as we count down the days, but is laden with despair as we see Lavelle do the rounds of his parish, both struggling with how to escape his fate, yet also trying to help his people.
There is a lot of murky grey in this film – Lavelle is both a Christ figure but also a visibly broken and flawed man – and while its cast as a black comedy it is definitely more dark than comedic.
One of the shining moments is when he is called to give the last rites to a man who has been seriously hurt in a car accident. The French tourist is in hospital on life support with his wife by his side as a result of a head on collision with 4 local young people all intoxicated.
Its a tragedy and Lavelle enters to console the wife and farewell the husband. He administers the last rites and then speaks with the wife acknowledging that its usually older people he does this sacrament with and in the case of younger people it is seen as very unfair.
Speaking of people who encounter tragic loss Lavelle says: ‘They curse God. They curse their fellow man. They lose their faith in some cases’.
The wife looks at him quizzically: ‘They lose their faith? It must not have been much of a faith to begin with if it is so easy for them to lose it’
Lavelle replies: ‘What is faith for most people? Its the fear of death. Nothing more than that. If that’s all it is its very easy to lose.’
The conversation continues…
Lavelle: “He was a good man, your husband?”
Teresa: “Yes. He was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now… he has gone. And that is not unfair. That is just what happened. But many people don’t live good lives. They don’t feel love. That is why it’s unfair. I feel sorry for them.”
So there’s a perspective changer. In the midst of a dark, cynical story that focuses primarily on the failure of faith, there is someone who is able to see things differently. There is a person of faith who can see differently and remain true when others have given up or when the opportunity is there to walk away.
Teresa questions the integrity of a self serving faith and the way we so easily ascribe the evil in our world to God. She strongly and gently offers a different perspective and in that moment there is a light in the darkness.