Thursday, January 30, 2014

Philomena (a movie review post)

Sometimes, life isn't fair. Things happen that people have no control over, like natural disasters. Or there are accidents where someone isn't paying attention and bad things happen, like car accidents. Or someone gets sick, really sick. Those things just happen, and they're not the fault of anyone, not in any malicious sense. And they're just not fair.

Then there are the malicious acts, the things people do on purpose that cause harm to other people, even things where the people doing the harm think they are "in the right." Those, possibly, are the worst acts, because they justify their actions and convince themselves that the offended "deserve" it. They only got what was coming to them. If you're thinking of the Nazis, you would not be incorrect, except that that is not whom I'm talking about. Unfortunately, I'm talking about the Church and, specifically, the Catholic Church.

I don't have anything against Catholics, but it's difficult for me, at this point in my life, to have sympathy for the Catholic Church at all, despite the fact that I think the new Pope is pretty cool. The history of the Catholic Church is so full of injustices done for the "good" of people it makes it difficult to see any actual good. The fact that this stuff is still ongoing and that we are constantly finding out about new ways in which the Church covered up wrongs and, even, allowed them to keep happening is incredible to me. To paraphrase a line from Philomena, "If Jesus was here, he'd tip the Church out of its wheelchair, and it wouldn't get up and walk!"

And, now, the spoiler warning!
That was it. The warning, I mean.

The movie is not about the Catholic Church while being about the Catholic Church. It's about a woman's search for her son, who was taken from her against her will and sold... by a nunnery. Because that's what they did with unwanted girls and their babies, wanted or not. Basically, young girls who had become pregnant and, therefore, an embarrassment to their families were given over to this particular convent as slaves. Seriously. They were held for a particular amount of time and made to work everyday unless they could buy their way out of it. Of course, they weren't paid for their work, and their families had abandoned them there, so they had no way of coming up with any money with which to purchase their freedom. They were also forced to sign away the rights to their babies, which were then sold, usually to Americans. It was horrid.

So... slavery and selling babies. Just par for the course for the Catholic Church, I guess. And, of course, after the fact, they lied to both the mothers and the children who were trying to reunite with each other. And burned all the records so that they could honestly say, "the records all burned up in the great fire."

I suppose I might be able to start getting over my ill feelings toward the Catholic Church if all of this stuff was in the past. If this was stuff the church used to do, but this stuff... this stuff just happened. It took an investigative reporter to uncover the truth of  this situation because they, the nuns and the church, were still busy lying about what had happened. And we continue to find out about things like this month after month. It makes it difficult to look at any good things the Catholic Church may have done.


Steve Coogan is amazing in this movie. He also co-wrote the script. I'm used to him playing comedic side characters of no real import, but he was completely convincing as Martin Sixsmith, the reporter who investigated the convent in order to help Philomena track down her son. I hope Coogan pursues more work of this nature, both writing and acting, because he was excellent.

As was Judi Dench, but that's to be expected. However, if you're used to her in more commanding roles, she may surprise you in this one as the somewhat-daft-and-possibly-not-always-quite-in-touch-with-things Philomena Lee. She was a pleasure to watch and deserves her nomination.

Philomena is a very good movie, certainly one of the best I have seen this year, so I can totally support its nomination. I don't think it's going to win, nor do I think it should, but it's not out of place on the list. And, now, I actually (more than) kind of want to read the book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and, when you adapt a book into a movie (whether it's a true story or not), I think the highest achievement of the movie is that it makes you want to read the book. I'm not saying I will (because my TBR stack is huge), but I want to. Also, it's good to get more of this stuff from the Church out into the open and, hopefully, prompt them into some real change.


  1. I find it astonishing that an institution that perpetrates horrendous acts like this feels that it can try to take the moral high ground on any subject.

    As for the film, this is definitely one that I want to see.

  2. I have no doubt the film is excellent.
    That's why organized religion on that level can get so messed up. Have you ever read the history of the printed Bible? It's a miracle we still have it considering how hard the Catholic church worked to keep it out of people's hands.

  3. That poster for the movie is bizarre, the subject your discussing and the poster don't give me the same impression at all. At best, I'm thinking, based on the poster, that this is a 'driving miss daisy' sort of film. I'd be in for a real shock if I just waltzed into a theater and thought it looked cute and decided to watch.

    And it's doubly difficult to understand any organization that holds itself up as the moral compass of the world is guilty of committing atrocities that most people would find to horrible to believe. I'd just say that the Catholic church isn't alone in this. Other religious groups, more modern ones, have their hands dipped in blood as well.

    I think it has to do with any group that gets large and then decides it will be self-policing.

    That. Never. Works.

  4. That reminds me of another movie I saw. I forget the title but it was about a convent in Ireland that was pretty much a concentration camp.

    Whoever came up with the poster for this movie should be fired. I mean nothing in there suggests anything about evil nunneries giving away babies. From looking at it I thought it was some kind of May-December romance movie.

  5. All the stuff I have seen on TV certainly doesn't give the impression it is anything to do with nuns and selling babies. I do want to see the movie though. I love Judi Dench. Did you see her play a woman with Alzheimer's I don't remember the name of it, but she was brilliant, of course.

  6. L.G.: No kidding.

    Alex: It's a miracle we all don't still think the Earth is flat.

    Rusty: Actually, much of the movie is about the relationship between Sixsmith and Philomena, so, in that sense, the poster is accurate. The final conflict also has more to do with those two characters than what the nuns did, so it's not far off from the tone of the movie. It's just that that other stuff makes me so mad.

    And, no, the Catholic Church is not alone, but the Catholic Church has had a very long time to do really bad things with no one to stop them from doing that stuff.

    Pat: Maybe this is the same one? This convent was certainly like that with the girls locked in and all of that.

    Jo: I'm not remembering that movie, but I'll look it up.

  7. I saw the trailer for the movie before it hit theaters. I have it added to my list of Redbox when it finally comes out on DVD. Great review at least I will know what to expect and keep an open mind when I watch it. Thanks for the review of this movie.

  8. I want to see that movie but the subject matter makes me shudder. Who in their right minds could think it was okay to sell children? The bottom keeps dropping on the Catholic Church.

  9. I'm so glad that didn't happen to me when I was born. My mom just handed me over to the state. It's all good, I got adopted =)

  10. The Pope seems all right, but a read through his history makes him a more complicated figure than the "he lives in a small apartment and takes the bus" Pope that he is made out to be. I like some of the things he has said, and as a guy who was raised Catholic (I don't go to church anymore, although I'm still very religious) I want to believe that the church -- or any church-- can correct the problems rather than make them worse. It is very difficult these days to believe in any organization or entity, as they all seem to have at their core simply a directive to maintain their existence. Whether it be the Catholic Church, the federal (or state) government, or a business, it seems that simple existence and gathering of power is the drive of all entities.

    (Which, as an aside, might make Google the only company worth rooting for in this world: Google, while insanely profitable, appears to genuinely believe that its mission is simply the cataloging and collection of all information, ever. Weird to think that Google is more loveable than the Catholic Church.)

    With that said, where to draw the line and stop rooting for someone or something is hard to say. Do you not believe in the US government because of the Tuskegee experiments? Because of Japanese internment camps? Because they wrote slavery into our Constitution and now spy on us?

    I'm not a fan of the Catholic Church, for a variety of reasons. That comment isn't meant to defend them, and it's perhaps easier to judge a church not only for committing evil but for covering it up. What I really fault the Catholic church for is not necessarily individual acts of evil, such as this, but for fostering a culture in which people could believe that God wants you to hate, or disapproves of things that make life good, or wants to separate mothers and babies. It makes it too easy for things like this to happen. When you convince people that sex is wrong and babies can be evil, when you teach people that a God who could create the entire world full of beautiful things and give it to us, and then that same God could somehow hate people for making a mistake in the height of passion, you set the stage for enormous cruelty.

    It's that kind of teaching that is the proper reason to resent the Catholic Church (and some other churches). Because it allows this, and all the other problems, to flourish and then covers them up in the name of protecting the church. How much better would it be if the Church stuck to the idea that Jesus was kind and forgiving and wanted us to love each other? If you teach people to think that way, then those nuns maybe help a single teen mother, and none of this happens.

    That is what Pope Francis has allowed the possibility of: a Church that stops judging and hating, and starts teaching people to love. One that gets past condemning the sin and starts loving the sinner.

    If this movie helps further that, then more power to it.

    (Also, Steve Coogan is an amazing actor. Did you see "The Trip"? You should. I bet you'd like it.)

  11. G_G: Oh, no problem. Hopefully, there will be a couple more reviews coming.

    Jeanne: People who believed that the babies were stained with the sin of the mother.

    Elsie: The people "buying" the babies were actually adopting them. The Irish government, from what I could tell, did not know the babies were being taken from their mothers against their will.

    Briane: The reason I can stand behind the US government, so to speak, is that even while trying to cover up things, it supports the people trying to find them out. Not only do we make that possible, but we, as a people, encourage it.
    Religious organizations rarely support the Truth even while claiming to preach it.

    (I have not seen The Trip, but I will look it up.)

  12. I'm shy about discussing religion in the 'sphere, partly because I am a godless heathen myself and therefore know that mine will forever be the outsider perspective. But it's mostly because I don't want to ruffle feathers. I admire your taking the risk here.

    My wife's a Steve Coogan fan. I am not so much. If anything, his acting is too authentic. His characters are too much like people I actually know and dislike.

  13. TAS: I don't really look at as taking a risk. I mean, at this point, it's the same kind of risk as saying, "The world is NOT flat."

  14. Wow. I've never heard of this movie and there's no chance at all I'll go see it, and I thank you for the review, because I might have been tricked into seeing it by the happy yellow poster.

  15. RG: Well, it's worth seeing, I think, and the movie is actually not as traumatic as I might be making it sound.

  16. I really want to see this movie. I basically see whatever Judi Dench is in, saw the trailer and she looks younger than ever. Love that lady!

  17. If you explore any medium to any depth, even comic books, intersections with religion are inevitable. Still, I believe in treading lightly.

  18. Karen: She certainly doesn't look her age, much like Helen Mirren.
    I hope you enjoy it when you see it.

    TAS: Do you carry a big stick?
    (yeah, I know that's not exact.)