I have a little ritual. Once a week, movie in, manicure kit out. Last week I wore 4-alarm blaze, this week I’m changing it up for Bahama Mama. It’s nice to know that in the crayon off-season, colour namers still have somewhere to go. A movie is a perfect length of time to do your nails, and wet nails are the perfect way to stop yourself from eating a whole bag of chips while watching the movie: win-win!
And truth be told, some movies require a modicum of distraction. I mean, this movie in particular is a little intense, and it’s nice to have somewhere else to focus when your senses start overloading. But for me, being a little deficient in attention, I tend to actually focus better if I’m doing 2 or 3 other things in addition to the movie watching, which is why I’m writing to you, while watching a movie, while painting my nails. At work.
I’m watching Calvary, which is a brilliant character study of a priest going through a rough patch. Father James (Brendan Gleeson, wonderfully) sits in confession one Sunday and a parishioner confesses that he was molested as a child, by a priest. His abuser is long dead; instead, he plans on making a good priest pay. That good priest, it would seem, is to be Father James. The date is set for a week hence – Father James will die for the sins of the church.
Father James goes about helping the people of his parish – a butcher (Chris O’Dowd) being cuckholded, his own daughter fresh from a suicide attempt, a cynical and atheistic doctor, and a young man in prison for killing and eating beautiful women, this last played by Gleeson’s son Domhnall (of Ex Machina, you may remember). Their scene together is pretty disturbing, and pretty great. Actually, the whole thing’s pretty great.
All the while, we’re wondering if it’s one of these parishioners (we’re introduced to a nice, round, biblical 12) who has threatened his life, so the interactions are tainted with underlying hostility and suspicion. We may not yet know who the would-be killer is, but Father James knows him. He knows his fate but keeps walking toward it. The movie’s cleverly put together, with plenty of hints in retrospect, sometimes uneven in tone as the humour and the violence circle around each other. The film deals with a difficult subject – sexual abuse in the church – in a circumspect manner; not so much head-on as from a spiritual angle looking into the black hole left by years of abuse and maybe worse still, its cover up.
I always like Gleeson but he’s top-notch in this. His weathered face fills the frame with truth and regret. Forgiveness, redemption, compassion, sacrifice: by the time you’ve done your penance, your nails will be dry and you’ll be free to sin again.