Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Bother Seeing 'Calvary'

It's pretentious tosh from beginning to end. Is it anti-Catholic? Not particularly. But that's only because it's too busy being anti-life, anti-human race, and anti-everything else. There may have been some elusive hint of redemption in the movie, but it's so swathed in despair and disillusionment that it doesn't amount to very much.

The central character is not so much a good priest as a (supposedly) good man who happens to be a priest. The sincerity of his faith is never questioned, but he never shows the slightest inclination to come to the defence of his Church when it is being criticized. And it's criticized incessantly throughout the movie, although, to be fair, it's made pretty obvious that the Church is simply serving as a handy scapegoat or projecting screen for the other characters.

And, boy, do these people have demons! Everybody in Calvary seems to be homicidal, suicidal, perverted, despairing, abusive or masochistic. Worst of all, everybody is infinitely self-aware, ironic and jaded. Calvary is full of dialogue that is clever but incredibly tiresome-- nobody ever says anything obvious or straightforward or naive. At one point the atheist doctor concedes that he is a stock character, one which he describes as being "one part humanism and nine part gallows humour". That kind of thing.

What a waste of time and money. I should have gone to Spiderman instead. I think this might be the last time I ever go to see a film that threatens to be in any way arty. Maybe I am a soulless cretin, but I simply don't see human life as being the sewer of degradation that art-house directors seem to consider it.

ADDED THE NEXT DAY: I've been thinking about this movie since I saw it, and it strikes me that what really bothers me about it is the sheer waste. (And I'm not just talking about this movie, but others like it.) The cinema is such a marvellous venue. It can be a portal to such magical worlds. It can be a setting for the most sublime celebration of life, and of art. It can be, to use that clichéd but evocative phrase, a 'dream factory'. And anyone who goes to the cinema is making a commitment of time and money that may be very far from trivial to them.

And for all that investment to be thrown away upon an ugly howl of protest against the human condition seems to me almost blasphemous. Whether you believe that we are here because of Divine Providence, or whether you believe we are here because of a mind-bogglingly complex and unlikely set of circumstances, the outcome of a process that went on for millions of years before our birth, surely there's something sick in spending our time brooding on ugliness, evil and ennui?

Give me the cheerful humanism of Star Trek: The Next Generation over this kind of time-wasting, soul-wasting, money-wasting, life-wasting rubbish any day.


  1. Have a look at Michael Kelly's take on the film in the Irish Catholic. It may change your view of the film.

  2. Thanks for that. I had a look. What he is saying is fair enough as far as it goes, but I think it's rather a superficial analysis. There is no suggestion in the movie that the malaise of the villagers is particular to post-Catholic, post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. It's not a "grim picture of a community that has lost its religious compass", as Michael Kelly claims. It's a grim vision of life-- to go along with all the other grim visions of life that are offered us by 'serious' film-makers. I'm not denying it was aspiring to make (very clichéd) social comments about the Ireland of today, but there is no hint of any elevation beyond that.

    It's also, I would contend, a tedious, dull, ugly piece of work. Any Irish film that is barely adequate inevitably receives rapturous reviews.

  3. Even though I am only reading this now, I didn't bother seeing it because I saw the title of this article in your archives. I suspected a film starring a priest character would be a bit unusual.

    I don't know if you have met him yet, but Matthew Jebb was at the last Belloc meeting and he seems to think the film was genius. Since I didn't see it I can't comment on it, but he claims the story was supposed to have similarities to the actual story of Calvary, with Gleeson's character being like Jesus surrounded by terrible people.

  4. Yeah, I caught the Jesus parallels. I hven't met Matthew Jebb yet (I don't think), I respect his opinion but I can't really agree with it-- I honestly wonder if this is a film anyone will sit through twice? It's hard to see what enjoyment could be derived from it.