I live in a small town so the movie Calvary never made it to local theaters. But Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson as Father James the Catholic priest of a small seaside parish in Ireland, finally showed up in the Redbox kiosk.

For fear of spoiling the movie I don't want to say much about it. Perhaps a few months from now I might return to say more after more people have gotten a chance to watch it.

For now, just a few comments.

I was profoundly shaken, emotionally and theologically, by Calvary.

Beware, Calvary is a very disturbing movie which hits you with the darkness right at the start. And yet, Calvary is also beautiful and tender. Calvary is horrific but it is also one of the most profoundly Christian movies I have ever seen.

At the heart of the movie, which basically follows Father James through a type of "passion week", are soteriological questions:

What can save us and what can save the church from our sins, our depravity and our evil?

What can save us? How are sins forgiven?

Without spoiling it too much, I think the movie has a very clear answer.

The only thing that can save us from sin and evil and bring about forgiveness is the loving sacrifice of Calvary.

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12 thoughts on “Calvary”

  1. Finally saw it a couple of weeks ago after waiting on tenterhooks since summer and it did not disappoint. My initial impression is this is an important film for Christians everywhere to see. I look forward to your more detailed treatment after everyone has had a chance to see it. There's a lot there - I think this is one that calls for several re-screenings as I suspect I will discover more the deeper I plumb.

  2. Again, not wanting to spoil too much, but given the sins and depravity Father Lavelle wades through throughout the movie, and the final scene with his daughter, I think the exchange they have at the end of the movie is pretty central:

    Father James Lavelle:
    I think there's too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.

    Fiona Lavelle:
    What would be your number one?

    Father James Lavelle:
    I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.

  3. I just saw the movie and I agree with you both. A profound movie with scenes of tenderness and cruelty and callous indifference. I need to see it again. I'm trying to remember the dialogue between the widow and the priest in the chapel. That was a significant scene too, I think. Looking forward to your further meditations!

    Have you performed the Last Rites many times?

    Yes. Usually with older people, of course. You have time to prepare for it. Everybody knows what’s coming.

    It is easier?

    It’s never easy. More understandable, let’s say. Less unfair.


    Situations like this one, people are shocked. The randomness of it. They curse God. Curse their fellow man. They lose their faith, in some cases.

    They lose their faith? It must not have been much of a faith to begin with, if it is so easy for them to lose it.

    Yes. But what is faith, at the end of the day? For most people it’s the fear of death, nothing more than that. And if that’s all it is, then it’s very easy to lose.

    (after a pause)
    When we are children we are told to say our prayers. Our parents tell us, our teachers. Then we grow up and we think people who say their prayers are stupid. They’re ridiculous. Unless we want money, of course, or a good job, or we have a child who is sick, or a lover who is dying. Then we are allowed to pray again. Then it is okay.

    Yes. But the prayer must be answered.

    Yes, the prayer must be answered. And if the prayer is not answered then there is no God and it is all a lie. If God does not pay attention to us, because we are so important, then God does not exist.

    Yes. We must be paid attention to.
    He was a good man, your husband?

    Yes, he was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now he has gone. That is not unfair, that is just what happened. But many people do not live good lives, and they do not feel love. That is what is unfair. I feel sorry for them.

    (after a pause)
    Will you say a prayer with me, Teresa?


    Hail Mary, full of grace--

    --the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed
    is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen.

  5. Agreed. One of my favorites from this past year. Here's my review (no real specific spoilers, other than what you might get from the trailer):

  6. Glad you saw it. A powerful film. My reflections, which are definitely spoiler-filled are here: I focus on the theme of disassociation.

  7. While I'm thinking of works of art that I would love to hear your thoughts on, I highly commend to you "The Slow Regard of Silent Things" by Patrick Rothfuss. I don't know if you read fiction (particularly fantasy). If you do then you should read the other two books in that setting first "The Name of the Wind" and "A Wise Man's Fear". They are some of the most beautiful prose and deliriously good storytelling I've read in some time, but the "Slow Regard" stands pretty well on its own even if you haven't read the other two and I am recommending it in particular, because it is a very interesting and I think powerful portrait of spiritual-psychology. I thought of you when I read it.

  8. I hadn't realized that it was a "passion week"!

    Forgiveness is the answer to all those questions, I think.

    On the indifference track, I never paid much attention to that, but probably because it was how I deal with what I'm dealing with. However, while on the edge of my seat in the theater, I was waiting for Father James to crack. And when he did, I felt my own humanity.

  9. Your post finally got me to watch it. I was not in the right mood for it so I found it a bit boring but after re-reading your post and the discussions I do have to conclude that it is an amazing movie in some ways.

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