The Two Popes—Growing in Communion

The Two Popes—Growing in Communion

Fernando Meirelles’ newest film astounds in its composition, but most especially in moving the audience to feel with and understand two very different and yet similar men of God. The Two Popes leaves one changed. It is a film that cannot be seen without a spiritual transformation happening deep inside whether we are aware of it or not. Why would a director who is a self-proclaimed nonbeliever want to do a film about the Catholic Church’s leaders of the 21st century? Meirelles says, “The idea of tolerance is the take-away. People really relate to this idea of listening and tolerance because it gives us the hope that we don’t have to keep fighting one another forever. The film has a warmth because it shows it is possible to connect to the other.” And, that’s what this film expresses—the beauty of communion. 

 

Anthony McCarten who also wrote the screenplay bases the film on the book of the same name. He said his inspiration came when he and his wife were visiting Rome and went to St Peter’s Basilica at the same time Pope Francis was celebrating Mass. His mind began to wander and curiosity took hold about how there could possibly be two popes at the same time. He said he did a lot of reading and so the story is inspired by true events with fictionalized dialogue. As he reflected that in the Church and in the world there is, “not enough silence and listening.” The film portrays the two popes because he says, “If the Church can take steps forward, then there’s hope for us.” It begins with Cardinal Bergolio (Jonathan Pryce) in an open square preaching during a Mass with his people in Buenos Aires. Pope John Paul II dies and all the Cardinals are called to Rome for the conclave to elect a new pope. There is a call for internal reforms and one sees the mumuratio take place as various groups of Cardinals share their thoughts about who could next lead the Church. At one point, Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) passes over Cardinal Bergolio while greeting other Cardinals. When the two meet while washing their hands Bergolio is hums a tune. Ratzinger says, “Nice tune. What are you humming?” Bergolio responds, “Dancing Queen by Abba.” As the audience roars, Ratzinger in a puzzled expression repeats, “Abba. That’s a good name.” 

 

One Cardinal tells Bergolio to be ready since many Cardinals are considering him for pope. He said, “Reform needs a politician…vote for Martini.” We then hear Ratzinger tell other Cardinals, “The Church needs one unchanging, eternal truth…one point of reference.” Yes, even in the Church there are seemingly opposing sides: the traditionalists and the reformists. Yet, are they really so different or is it just how we express ourselves and what we emphasize? The conclave elects Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. One scandal after another hits the universal Church and specifically the Vatican. The elderly Pope Benedict summons Cardinal Bergolio to Rome, just after Bergolio sends in his early resignation letter and books his flight to Rome to meet with the Pope about it. 

© 2019, Peter Mountain. Netflix. Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergolio. All rights reserved.

The next part of the film is just astounding dialogue and cinematography. They meet in Castel Gondolfo, the Pope’s summer residence, and share about life, theology, sin, and grace. At one point Benedict questions Bergolio’s passionate expressions about soccer, to which Bergolio says, “I’m Argentinian….tango and futbol are compulsory.” He tells Pope Benedict that Argentina and Germany can be in the World Cup finals, to which Benedict replies, “I’ve never understood the excitement,” drawing laughter from the audience. Benedict then invites Bergolio, “Please sit down and let’s just be quiet together.” It is a time they share as brothers and a very touching moment when they share about hearing and not hearing God’s voice. 

 

Benedict is called to Rome on urgent matters. He takes Bergolio with him. They meet the next day in the Sistine Chapel, which was re-created for this film, and a pithy, snarky, yet sincere dialogue ensues with some deeply touching and spiritual sayings that are applicable to everyone. Benedict shares that he wants to resign as Pope, to which Bergolio adamantly responds that he cannot. Benedict shares, “What damage will I do if I remain?...I know my intentions are pure…. I’m a scholar, not a manager…half blind…governance requires eyesight I do not have.” To which Bergolio responds, “It is our weakness that calls forth the grace of God.” But in a quick rebuttal Benedict says, “The Church needs to change and you could be that change.” It’s a lovely conversation of two people with different perspectives, different emphases, who share the common love of God and the Church and who grow in communion the more they share their views. 

 

While watching the film, I personally felt a well of desire surface in me wanting to shout out, “Yes! See, it can be done!” This film calls forth the reality that we can talk civilly together with respect and love even though our views are different. There can still be communion among those who emphasize different aspects of faith and spirituality or politics, for that matter. After all, we are all human beings seeking a God who is above and beyond our differences. When they confess to one another through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the beauty of communion is confirmed, to which Bergolio tells Benedict, “Truth may be vital but without love it’s unbearable.” 

© 2019, Peter Mountain. Netflix. Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergolio. All rights reserved.

At the beginning of the film I thought the dialogue and characterization of both Popes was somewhat stereotyped. But, as the film progressed I saw the purpose of the film and how the very public images of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis were used as a commentary on our world today. Meirelles says that he made the film feel intimate because, “It’s about human beings and how they can change. It’s about tolerance and forgiveness. Both Francis and Benedict made mistakes in their lives, and struggle to forgive themselves, and we explore that in the film…. It’s very human.” He also said, “The original image I had was a good pope and bad pope as the press described them. Then I watched some of Benedict’s homilies and I understood him and began to see grey areas where Benedict was described and interpreted. Then Tony Hopkins gets on board and he likes Benedict very much; his is a more intellectual approach. As I learned more about Pope Benedict I came to like him more.”

© 2019, Peter Mountain. Netflix. Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins put on a brilliant performance that you forget who they are and only see the characters they represent, which is essential to good acting. And the ending could not be more perfect. This film will touch all the right cords in society and hopefully in the Church opening all of us to consider each other with substantially more compassion, mercy, and kindness, as is beautifully portrayed in The Two Popes. I hope every Catholic person in a parish, organization, and institution watch this film and learn. Only when we stop and consider each other as human beings will we be open to listen, reflect, share, and dialogue. It is an emotional and transforming experience that I pray touches our Church and our world. 

 

 

 

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  1. TwoPopes2.jpg 11/22/2019 3:25:21 PM
  2. TwoPopes3.jpg 11/22/2019 3:25:22 PM
  3. TwoPopes4.jpg 11/22/2019 3:25:25 PM

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