PG-13. It's a pretty heavy PG-13. The setting surrounds the Church scandals that have plagued the Vatican for a while now, but this is specifically how Benedict handled it. From an objective perspective, The Two Popes treats the events fairly respectfully. But many Catholics could find the film objectionable. Also, the movie deals with despotism and torture. It's not an easy PG-13. I don't know if I would let a 13-year-old watch this. Maybe high school juniors and seniors could handle this, but there would need to be teaching behind what is on screen. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Fernando Meirelles
Let's just start with this. I keep hearing that the Benedict stuff is super inaccurate and that much of this is, at best, speculative. I always heard from people who are way smarter than me at this kind of thing that Benedict is way more progressive than his reputation is associated with. This leads me all to do exactly what this blog is set out to do: treat this like a film and talk about it as such. I can see why people get frustrated, though. It's so hard to get a straight line about what the Church is all about, especially when it comes to treating the Church with a modicum of respect. I don't know Meirelles's beliefs, but I'm going to go as far as to say that The Two Popes manages to talk about icky things without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
For my Catholic friends, this movie probably stands on a bit of dangerous ground. For my atheist friends, it probably doesn't go far enough. As Catholic as I am, I struggle. It's sometimes very difficult to say that I can see past the scandals of the past to continue being Catholic. My heart breaks for those people who have been harmed by the Church. As such, a movie like The Two Popes is probably something healthy. It confronts issues dead on without losing the fact that the Church is more than individuals and more than scandals. It is simultaneously an angry film, but also a desperate film. It needs the Church to do better, not just because people have been harmed (which the film focuses on squarely), but also because the Church has done so much good and is capable of so much better. I like that attitude. Rather than burning the whole institution down, it screams for accountability. Whether that accountability exists in the world of fiction or not, that's something else to be seen. The movie's end does kind of imply with the institution of Francis as pope, the problems of the Church have been repaired. They haven't. But it does leave the movie in a place of hope, and that's something important.
I didn't necessarily want to watch this movie originally. I think that Netflix did another series about Pope Francis and it was wildly inappropriate. I kind of hate being a bit of a moderate because most of my Catholic friends are pretty conservative and kinda/sorta anti-Francis. I don't know if they are pro-Benedict, but I tend to get a bit of guff because I like Francis. Yeah, I'm a pushover and a progressive butthead. I do find it odd how being progressive is equated with being good and being conservative is equated with being bad in this film. Remember, I'm pretty progressive compared to most Catholics I know, but there are moments where this movie paints with a pretty wide paintbrush. Francis can't stop seeming super-hip as he casually throws around problematic concepts for the development of the Church as Bergolio. Benedict, by contrast, is painted as completely out of touch. He has no idea who the Beatles are and he doesn't know how to eat pizza. (I laughed at this, but I also thought of the implications.) Benedict, in the film, has been given the great weight of being the representative of the old guard and its now criminally negligent ways while Bergolio comes across as someone who holds all the keys to great success. Again, it's a movie, but it also is a bit lazy, even dangerously so.
It is weird that Jonathan Pryce puts so much into his performance and Hopkins is just Hopkins again. I've had this commentary on Hopkins for a while. (BTW, I hear he is probably a terrible human being. I don't want to think that!) Hopkins is really good at what he does. He has that certain cadence. He has that emotional intensity. The thing is, he's always the same character. I know that he's mostly been playing the same part since The Silence of the Lambs, but it has gotten worse since he's gotten older. If you hadn't seen Westworld or The Two Popes, I could play generic clips from both movies and assuming that there were no context clues, you wouldn't know which movie it came from. Hopkins, playing a German pope who has lived in Italy for a majority of his life, just has his traditional Welsh accent throughout the film. But then there's Jonathan Pryce! Jonathan Pryce, you are an enigma to me. I loved Jonathan Pryce in this movie. He encapsulated every nuance of Jorge Bergolio. His accent, his mannerisms, his lust for life, and his insecurities. Each scene with Pryce is precious and gorgeous. If I liked Francis before, I like him even better now that I've seen Pryce play him. Does that make me wrong? Probably, but I don't really care. The performance is butter!
How do you stick Hopkins across from Pryce like that? I had the opposite issue with Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. Hopkins is there, chewing the scenery and Keanu Reeves is just being Keanu Reeves. It's such an odd contrast. You would think that everyone would get on the same page before the shooting started. It is either everyone does an impression of the person that they are portraying or no one does. It's also really weird how Pryce got the role. We all remember the character that Jonathan Pryce played on Game of Thrones? The way that I and others described him was "Evil Pope Francis." How do you go from a character that kind of damned Pope Francis to making such a loving portrayal of him in a matter of years?
And that portrayal is loving. Again, probably an ounce of truth to the whole thing, but I like the idea that Jorge Bergolio was a man who deemed himself unworthy of the priesthood. I'm teaching my students An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. I like the idea that people, in real life, make mistakes because there was no right answer. Bergolio is in this situation, and this is central to the film's theme, where there was no right answer. He tried to do his best in a crappy situation and people got hurt in the process. Other people were saved, but I get Bergolio's tunnel vision in that moment. Seeing that he made the wrong choice for some is haunting. But this is everything that created an interesting character out of Bergolio. Bergolio seemed to be this man who tried to live by example. He was this charismatic guy who was shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor. His form of redemption for his mistake was to embody the charism of the people that he sacrificed. He would outwardly be this positive guy, but inwardly would be a storm at sea. The concept that Bergolio never forgave himself the mistake he made in his youth makes him an interesting person.
I mentioned earlier that the movie portrays conservative ideals as something to be mocked. The one time that the movie nails what it means to be a conservative at one time and a progressive at another is through the tale of young Bergolio. Young Bergolio is the guy who makes the mistake, but really that isn't his fault. He's doing his best with a series of events that are outside of his control. Young Bergolio had the burden of being young. He had faith in things that aren't deserving of that faith. He's never seen as stupid or a bad guy. It's just that he chose the worst of two bad scenarios. That's kind of what it is like choosing politics. Rather than saying, "Man, that guy is an idiot" or "That guy is evil" because of political decisions, Bergolio represents the opportunity for change. When presented with oh-so-much data, Bergolio made the sympathetic choice. He chose to believe that, if he spoke to the government, that they would have mercy on the people of Argentina. That makes sense. He did the best that he could in that moment. But he also is a character who was willing to change. He learned from his mistakes and moved on. I know that people often get stuck in their ways politically, but I think I'm constantly changing my views based on the evidence. (I'm saying that I'm the greatest human being that ever lived and that I'm very modest.)
As great as the complexity of this movie is, the best part actually kind of stems out of the fact that it seems like Francis and Benedict are actual friends. That's what the movie is founded upon, showing these disparate personalities and stressing that it is okay to be friends with people you don't always agree with. That also ended up being my favorite part about RBG, her relationship with Scalia. I don't love when people say that conservatives or progressives are evil or morons. It's something that we all kind of deal with. I know that there are real world consequences. That's why I tend to be more progressive than conservative, because I've weighed the outcomes of the stranger into account. It's not a perfect system. I'm still very conservative about a number of issues, but I like the idea that this, ultimately, is a movie about an important conversation that should be happening every day. These people bonded over their differences, not their similarities. Bergolio loved Ratzinger. Benedict loves Francis. That's what the core of the film is and I adore that.
It's heavy, but it's also funny and charming. It is as respectful as it can be, given a controversial topic. And it's on Netflix. So, you know, low stakes if you don't like it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.