REEL MOTION: The Wicked and Divine People of Sligo, Ireland

Oct 09, 2019

Reel Motion is a series of blog posts detailing the films in the 2019-20 Northrop Film Series.

Calvary is writer and director John Michael McDonagh’s carefully constructed postmodern Clue by way of the stations of the cross, a layered and nuanced black comedy.

The 2014 film is centered around Father James (Brendan Gleeson), who is seemingly the only decent person in Sligo, a town filled with heightened characters who all have something to say and all have suspect motivations. Why would Father James care about the motivations of his parishioners any more than a priest would need to outside of business hours?

Father James has seven days to live, a shadowy parishioner informs him in confession. He’s to be the symbolic sacrificial lamb, a stand-in for the priest who abused the parishioner as a child. The Shadowy parishioner will kill Father James the following Sunday. This starts the ticking clock that drives Father James through the rest of the film as he wrestles with this literal deadline while trying to carry on with his duties to his parish and his own family. Although James thinks he knows the identity of his would-be killer, the audience does not. Could it be the butcher (Chris O'Dowd) or the squire (Dylan Moran)? Perhaps the atheist doctor (Aidan Gillen) or even fellow priest Father Leary (David Wilmot)?

It’s hard to go into detail about this film without spoiling key plot points that populate Father James’ journey to that windy beach standing in for that rather well known hill. Calvary is hopeful, angry, profane, and touches the sacred while dealing with the consequences of abuse by the Church, drug and alcohol abuse, and abuse from society that is rooted in what seems to be the core tenant of this film: everything is chaos and we are all sinners laughing our way to our own personal Calvary.

This film is a kindred spirit to Teac Damsa’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, a co-presentation between Northrop and Walker Art Center. There is only one chance to see Calvary on Wed, Oct 16t, in Northrop’s Best Buy Theater. But there will be four chances to see Teac Damsa’s Loch na hEla at Oct 24-27.

Shayna Houp is Northrop’s Artist Services Manager and curates the Film Series each season.

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