the two popes

I was eagerly awaiting the release of The Two Popes on Netflix. The choice of actors was brilliant, Anthony Hopkins as Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Francis. The story was intriguing. The movie lived up to its expectations.

Masterful actors inhabit a character so deeply that we forget the actor and become engrossed with the person and story being told. Hopkins and Pryce are masters. Many times during the movie I forgot that they were there. It was Benedict and Francis on the screen.

The movie is “inspired by true events”, a term I learned more about while working on my screenplay. It allows the writer to weave fiction with fact without fear of liability. Several articles have been written about the accuracy of the movie, including The Two Popes; what’s fact and what’s fiction from America Magazine. It’s helpful to know the basic facts behind the story. With this movie, though, it’s best to sit back and allow yourself to be immersed in the dialogue between the two protagonists. The writing portrays the human struggles of both popes while emphasizing their differences. And, the differences are hard to avoid.

The contrasting liturgical fashion tastes of the two popes became an instantly identifiable symbol of their different pastoral styles. Benedict’s love for traditional finery and red Prada shoes became a caricature to be mocked by liberals. (Guilty!) Yet, for most of the movie the two men are dressed simply. Two men, one a pope and one a future pope, talking to each other. The dialogue identifies the deeper differences, and I think this is where the movie shines.

Hopkins brilliantly portrays Benedict as a man who spent his entire adult life in an academic/theological bubble. There is an innate awkwardness about him. He tries to impress Francis (Pryce) with his piano skills, side-stepping topics of conversation that he knows nothing about. He eats by himself. He knows little about popular culture. He has few, if any, friends outside his clerical circles.

It is a sympathetic portrayal and one that is often used to defend the emeritus pope. Ah, but he was simply too sensitive. Too gentle. Too intellectual. Too much of an introvert to be loved by the masses.


Joseph Ratzinger truly was “God’s Rottweiler”. As head of the Doctrine of Faith, his attacks on liberal theologians, priests and religious were harsh and unjust. Punishments were meted out for anyone who dared question the doctrine of the church, especially her teachings on a male-only priesthood. In contrast, ecclesial sanctions were light or non-existent for sexual abusers.

Clericalism and its defence was at the heart of Ratzinger and then Pope Benedict. His was a narrow vision of church focused on black and white doctrine, clerical power and a mythical, holier church of the past. His lack of personal experience with “the world” was not a sign of contemplative holiness. It was a sign of a person sadly out of touch with the people he was called to serve. His liturgical style, over-the top vestments surrounded by similarly dressed attendants, emphasized to the great-unwashed in the pews their great-unwashedness.

The movie scenes that stayed with me the most, were the close-ups on Francis while he listens to Benedict bearing his soul. Pryce looks piercingly into Hopkins’ eyes. Honest compassion and confusion mingle on his face. He is trying to understand this man, so unlike himself.

Francis, of course, is not perfect. The controversies around his actions as Jesuit Provincial during the Dirty War years in Argentina still haunt his legacy. The movie shows that they still haunt the man. What does he do? He tries to make reparation with his life. He eschews clerical luxuries to live and work closer to those he served. In Argentina, as Archbishop, it was the slums. In Rome, it is Santa Marta where he can dine and worship with residents and visitors alike. He speaks unceasingly of mercy, compassion and social justice and matches his actions to his words.

Two Popes. Two men with two contrasting visions of church, talking and trying to understand each other. Perhaps, the simple lesson to take from this movie is this.

Two men talking and trying to understand each other.

les misérables is a winner!

les miz

Hubby and I had a blast watching the Golden Globe awards last night. Adding to the enjoyment was an ongoing text-messaging conversation with two of our daughters. The Moyer women can give Joan Rivers a run for her money in the witty comments and fun snark department.

But, the highlight of the evening was watching our beloved Les Misérables pick up awards for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Hugh Jackman and Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hatheway. Despite the fact that the title kept being mispronounced as ‘Lay MiséraBLUH’, it had obviously won the hearts of many. And, so it should.

I’ve been in love with Les Misérables since my best friend gave me a cassette copy of the original London cast recording over twenty years ago. I listened to it over and over in the kitchen, stopping frequently to wipe tears with flour dusted hands. Our children grew up listening to the tunes, at home and in the car. Our twelve year old daughter played the musical score on the piano, and directed the crew in a heart-stirring yet hilarious rendition in our basement family room.

I’ve seen the stage production four times, twice in Winnipeg and twice in London. We bought the video of the 10th anniversary concert and watched it over and over. You would think that I have cried all the tears there are to cry by now….but, no.

Hubby and I saw the new movie with one of our daughters after Christmas. I didn’t cry. I sobbed! The pile of dry tissues in my left pocket depleted quickly, while my right pocket became a soggy mess. It was just that sad. And, that good.

The music in Les Miz is absolutely brilliant. It soars with heart-wrenching emotion, prayerful hope, and stirring visions of what the world could be. Anne Hatheway and Hugh Jackman take the music beyond the beauty of lyrics and tune, and inject it with a soul-baring honesty that is at times difficult to watch. Yet, they draw you in to the truth of the story in ways that mere technical perfection cannot. It is this truth that continues to envelop you, forcing you to ponder some big questions of life – questions that continue to haunt us today.

  • Do our justice systems reflect true justice? Are punishments proportional to the crimes committed?
  • How do we heal the sinful divide between rich and poor?
  • Why do women continue to disproportionately suffer from judgment and poverty when forced to raise a child alone? When will men be held accountable and forced to assume their share of responsibility for the life they bring into the world?
  • Who are we? Are we defined by what society tells us we are?
  • What is forgiveness? What is redemption? How can we call ourselves Christian if we do not believe in both?
  • Why does religious belief go so horribly wrong when it embraces a black and white view of justice?
  • When is a cause worth laying down your life for?
  • And, always…the power of love to conquer all.

The ideals of the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris reappeared in the Occupy Movements of last year. The call continues to go out to take up the banner for freedom and equality, for a world we all long to see. Sigh…pass the tissues again…

Have you seen the show? What emotions did it stir for you? I’d love to hear your reviews and reactions.

modern family wins catholic oscar!

Catholics in Media Associates held their 19th annual ‘Catholic Oscars’. The 2012 award for a television series went to Modern Family. Not surprisingly, the choice came with it’s share of controversy and naysayers. But I say, Wahoo! Below is a re-post from September 19, 2011. It explains why I think this show is worth all the awards it is receiving. One of my favorite movies from last year, The Way, received the Board of Directors Award. Another great choice!

Hubby and I love to watch T.V. One of our favourite shows is Modern Family. Our family is hooked on it. The writing is brilliant as are the acting skills of each cast member. Each has developed their character into an over-the-top hilarious personality while retaining a likeable humanness and warmth. You can’t help but love this clan! If you haven’t seen the show, ABC has a brief description on their web page.

Along with many other fans, we were thrilled to see Modern Family clean up at the Emmy Awards last night. During his acceptance speech Steve Levitan, co-creator of the series, told a story about a gay couple telling him that “You’re not just making people laugh. You’re making them more tolerant.” As the audience murmured their agreement, he quickly turned the serious line into a joke by pointing the tolerance towards the Jay and Gloria relationship; the old guy and his gorgeous young wife. Yet the line about promoting tolerance has a lot of truth in it.

Humour can be one of the best platforms to present deeper realities. And T.V. sitcoms can be great vehicles for promoting larger discussions around issues of the day. Remember the bigotry of Archie Bunker? How about the anti-war messages of M.A.S.H., the single mother plot of Murphy Brown, or the famous coming-out episode of Ellen? Each time sensibilities and political correctness were challenged, loud voices proclaimed the need for upholding morals in our society. The voices were not only loud. They were almost always judgmental.

Today, battle lines are constantly being drawn between competing definitions of family. The battle-fields are in our churches and the political sphere. It’s yet another debate that has trads and libs facing off, each claiming the moral high ground.

The reality is that we are no longer a Leave it to Beaver society; if we ever were one. Our society is becoming more multi-cultural and more diverse. We are just beginning to understand that issues of gender are not always black and white. Families now come in all shapes and sizes, blending and mixing as never before. Modern Family shows that it’s not the physical make-up of a group that makes a family. Each family on this show has its own issues and struggles. They get on each other’s nerves within their own family unit, and with the extended family. They screw up, and they constantly make up. At the end of the day they are committed to each other and love triumphs over all. They are as human as they come. They are family.