By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
“Calvary” is the kind of film that leaves a theater silent at the final credits. It’s not the silence of boredom or a morgue, but the silence of people collecting their emotions in order to breathe again.
Friends who’ve seen the film, some of them already two or three times, have noticed the same effect. From the first frame to the last, “Calvary” has an understated power – a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with spare simplicity. It’s also the best portrayal of a good priest in impossible circumstances I’ve seen in several decades.
Plenty of good reviews of Calvary already exist. I can’t improve on them here. It’s enough to say that the cast – led by Brendan Gleeson in an extraordinary performance – gives us a menagerie of human foibles, and the County Sligo setting has a raw Irish beauty that few viewers will ever forget.
But it’s the story that makes the film.
Gleeson plays an innocent man, a good priest, in the aftermath of Ireland’s devastating sex abuse scandal. A late vocation, a widower with a troubled adult daughter, he’s surrounded by people he knows better than they know themselves, characters ripe with indifference, resentment and cynicism, sprinkled with just enough courtesy to mask their contempt.
Into his confessional comes a man, the victim of clergy rape as a child, who informs him that he will murder him on Sunday in a week’s time – not because he’s a bad priest, but precisely because he’s a good priest. The rest of the film is the priest’s day-by-day path through the needs and circumstances of his people, and his own fear, to a meeting on the beach with the man who intends to kill him – a man whose voice the priest recognizes, but does not disclose, from the very beginning