“We built walls around us, and all the time… the real danger was inside. Inside with us.” – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis
Despite the initial reluctance to watch Fernando Meirelles‘s The Two Popes, as I thought it would be more a historical procedural than a film dealing with in-depth cultural and philosophical issues, it turned out to be the one I saw, literally, in the gap between two calendar years i.e. decades – half on 31 Dec 2019, and half on 1 Jan 2020. And I was grateful it was that way, metaphorically and in terms of chronological viewing. It is intelligent filmmaking, telling a very difficult, highly sensitive tale in a low-key, old-fashioned way, and still coming out as entirely relevant to the times, with two powerhouse acting performances to duel it out, both in narrative, and in thespian terms.
The fundamental premise of faith as an immovable fortress of dogma to defend vs. a vast river emerging from only one source and spring, but open to all that need its waters, has been the key demarcation line in the two millennia of Christianity. And it continues to be, tragically, especially erupting in times of great existential uncertainty.
Deferential, yet honest & investigative is a tough line to keep, but having Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce enact this divide, and both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis be exceptionally decent people, with traumas, regrets and doubts, of their own, helps navigate it.
And although it has a happy ending, for the flock across the globe, and for the Holy See – the popes become true life-long friends, understanding the need for both standpoints to co-exist in dialogue, rather than discord, and aversion – the demarcation line is on fire, elsewhere. In the political arena. The divide was always one of power, not belief. Of institutional survival, not faith, in itself.
The Two Popes, an adaptation of its screenwriter’s, Anthony McCarten‘s 2017 play The Pope, is maybe not the pinnacle of cinematic art, but as a solid, well-researched platform for pondering on the times that lie ahead, through the prism of two excellent minds, in opposition, yet still talking – it’s certainly worth your attention.