“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” says Shakespeare in his play, “As You Like It.” For people of faith, the world is God’s stage but we aren’t merely players, we are partners with God as God acts in the world through human beings he created.
The new documentary, “The Divine Plan,” begins by introducing its two main players, both actors who knew how to work a crowd: Pope Saint John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan. God gifted them with the biggest stage possible and they took to it with consummate skill, using the world stage for positive change, namely, the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism. The question asked by the film, written and directed by Robert Orlando, is this: was their desire and work toward that end just something that happened by accident or was it part of God’s divine plan?
Ironically, it was two acts of violence that came to link Pope and President: unsuccessful assassination attempts only six weeks apart. March 30, 1981 saw John Hinckley, Jr. open fire as Reagan exited the Washington Hilton Hotel after a speaking engagement. On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was making his way around St. Peter’s Square greeting pilgrims from the open “popemobile” when Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish national, opened fire, wounding the Pontiff. Both men of faith took their survival of the ordeals as a sign that God was not finished using them to do good in the world.
The first meeting between Reagan and John Paul II took place in June of 1982, even before the President made history by officially opening diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the first U.S. President to do so. When the Solidarity movement in Poland, led by Lech Walesa, picked up speed, Reagan and John Paul II knew the time was ripe for real steps aimed at ending the Cold War. Around the same time, change was happening in the Soviet Union with the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev and his Glasnost and Perestroika reforms.
President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II as seen in "The Divine Plan" (Nexus Media)
The instrument used to facilitate the collaboration between Pope and President was William J. Casey, a Catholic, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency for Reagan. Their association was dubbed “The Holy Alliance,” spurred on by the moral aspects of the Cold War, especially how Communist ideology disregarded the inherent dignity of the human person.
To explain the goings on with Pope John Paul II and President Reagan at the time, “The Divine Plan” features a wide variety of interviews with people like Bishop Robert Barron, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and George Weigel, familiar with the Church as well as political authors such as Anna Applebaum and John O’Sullivan. Especially interesting is input from Richard V. Allen, who began as Reagan’s foreign policy advisor from 1977 to 1980 before being appointed as his first National Security Advisor.
Although filled with fascinating information, the visual aspects of “The Divine Plan” distract from the film’s message. The graffiti-like graphics and animation are simplistic and overused. Transitions from art to interviews are jarring and rough. The sets for the interviews were dark and failed to reflect the hopeful subject matter of the film.
Even so, “The Divine Plan” is a wonderful addition to the history of the United States and the Catholic Church, especially in a time when religion and politics are so divisive. By presenting the way these two leaders put their faith into practice through their action, the film challenges each person, quoting Walt Whitman, to “contribute a verse” to the betterment of the world by discerning and following God’s plan.
Does “The Divine Plan” answer its central question? You will need to decide that for yourself but one cannot ignore the truth of the closing quote from Pope Saint John Paul II: “A coincidence is what a believer calls divine providence.”
"The Divine Plan" is in theaters on November 6th only. Tickets available through Fathom Events.