Daily Archives: Monday, April 28, 2014

  • Calvary John McDonagh (2014 Uk Ire)

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    Calvary John McDonagh (2014 UK Ire)
    Brendan Glesson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 22 April 2014
    Ticket £8 20

    Forgive them father…

    Calvary opens with a quote from St
    Augustin about the fate of the two thieves crucified on Calvary on
    either side of Jesus: that no presumptions should be made about the
    fate of the first thief. A suggestion that inspired Sam Beckett’s
    Godot. It is also the basis for the proposition that underlies
    McDonagh’s film examining: the relations of hope to despair,
    innocence to guilt, salvation to damnation. And Calvary is a rare
    thing a film grounded in a proposition.

    The core of the film is its ‘Rock’,
    Brendan Glesson’s Father Lavelle, a good priest and a good enough
    imperfect man. The film’s moment pivots on his performance: his
    physicality his psychic integrity his energy. And Gleeson plays out
    the scripted function of his role, that of holding the film together
    as a theorem of cosmic relations, like one of the old heroes of Irish

    The proposition that McDonagh’s script
    puts to the audience is that an innocent has to die in order to
    balance the psychic scales of evil. Christ – suffer little
    children to come to me, died to save the sins of the world; Father
    Lavelle will die to save the sins of the Church that suffered little
    children to be buggered. An old story an innocent sacrificed in
    propitiation to the powers that that oversee the playing out of the
    life force. Calvary’s script, in its mapping of Lavelle’s
    psychological movement towards his execution, is in step with
    elemental religious and initiatory ideas about the path individuals
    take when confronted by forces endemic in the nature of the world.

    fear – questioning – rebelling –
    rejecting – chaos – understanding – acceptance – compassion –

    denial of self
    Steps of this kind were taken by
    Christ as he moved towards the cross. In terms of today’s lifestyle
    ideologies that stress ‘overcoming’ not acceptance, ‘self assertion’
    over acquiescence, they are less than fashionable. But it is the way
    that Lavelle chooses.

    But it is not just that the moment of
    Fr Lavelle that is unfashionable in an aspirational culture. The
    metaphysical connections that link his fate to the fate of his killer
    Brennan oppose Western rationalism. The purpose of a rational
    system of justice is to establish: that a crime has been committed,
    to find the offender and to punish them for their acts. These
    linkages are the crux of contemporary justice, the basis justifying
    law and punishment. Calvary invokes another order of Justice. Its
    explores another inner human urge: to tear open the curtain of reason
    and to find a more primal idea of justice. One for which Necessity
    not rationality, defines the nature and the form of Justice.
    Necessity as a quasi judicial formulation is of course derided (but
    of course often resorted to, in disguised fashion, by established
    judiciaries) but the derision betrays the fear of the friends of
    rationality that the forces that drive ‘necessity justice’ lurk at
    the edge of the shadows of our nature, ready to enter the light as
    soon as vigilance wavers.

    The metaphysical notion of necessity is
    well symbolised by the scales of justice. The idea that there is
    such a thing as cosmic balance. That such a balance can be put out
    of true by events or occurrences, and that humans as significant
    elements in the cosmos can play a central role in the realignment of
    the scales. Human sacrifice stands as one example of the logic of
    law of necessity. A victim is needed: a victim does not have to be
    the guilty party. Sometimes necessity prefers a virgin or an
    innocent representative to rebalance the scales; another victim to
    mediate the reharmonising of our psychic and physical state with the
    cosmos. A restoring agent.

    There are signs that not only in
    religious psychology but in our own basic responses that something of
    this response is hardwired into our brains.

    McDonagh as writer understands
    ‘necessity’, and that it is the central idea in his script. But he
    seems to be a little embarrassed by it as a film maker. Embarrassed
    to the extent that this idea so cogently stated in the confessional
    scene becomes progressively overlaid by other images in the main body
    of the film, only emerging in clarity in the penultimate beach
    sequence. For much of the film Lavelle seems lost in a comic book
    world of contemporary stereotypes; abandoned by the film in a series
    of partially misfiring comic cameos.

    McDonagh substitutes a new grouping of
    moral mutants to replace the old standby caste of traditional Irish
    Country dwellers. Father Ted’s congregation has been superseded by
    characters transposed from the world of Irving Welsh. They are
    larger than life and scripted to provoke canned studio audience

    The main body of his movie suggests
    that McDonagh hasn’t thought about the nature of film: that you can’t
    script two big ideas at work simultaniously through the same material
    without having a filmic solution. His idea of Lavelle and his idea
    of a ‘Welshian Ireland’ with all its moral implications, cannot just
    be spliced together as one entity. To succeed in interweaving two
    themes you need to think in terms of film, and how film holds ideas
    together. On the basis of Calvary, McDonagh doesn’t understand this.

    Glesson holds his ground amidst this
    Channel 4 type bean fest but his presence is too often swamped and
    overwhelmed. The film, mostly shot like a situation comedy,
    struggles to find a filmic form to make the encounters anything more
    than obtrusive cameos that disengage the viewer from the film.
    These sequences often seem little more than a opportunity for writer
    director McDonagh to flaunt his skills at one liners and stand up
    repartee, rather than carve the film out into its own space.

    As mentioned above the delimiting
    factor of Calvary is the manner in which it is shot. It is shot
    like sit com. This can be an inflexible structure for a film with
    thematic propositions, as the material has no unifying hub; the edits
    flit from face to face scene to scene shot to reaction creating an
    agitation that is difficult to control. McDonagh seems to have
    fallen for the current fashion of interposing long landscape shots in
    films, so show that the film maker is in touch with nature or natural
    forces. In this case the conceit only leads to confusion in the
    audience, a feeling that they may have zapped the remote to an Irish
    Tourist Board promo. There are of course many ways in which Calvary
    could have been worked filmically: a point of view, a voice, a
    shooting style that invoked a ‘seeing’ in the viewer. As it is
    McDonagh took the line of least resistance, and the film pays the

    Adrin Neatrour