The Two Popes: A Fine Film That Is Possibly A PR Job

Movies, Netflix Movies
The Two popes

The papacy is an intriguing subject for me. I am not a Catholic but I had always considered the Pope as the number one Christian on earth. When Pope John II the second visited my small town, I climbed fences, squeezed through barb wires and stinking armpits, scratched, kicked, and squeezed some more. All so as to see the Pope. And I saw him – a fine saintly white man in angelic cassock flagged by a bunch of men and sinners. Years later, I found out that the man I saw wasn’t the pope but one of his cardinals which means I never saw the pope (that is if I believed them, I don’t; it was the pope I saw you forking* kill-joys).

I was in high school when Pope John Paul II died and Cardinal Ratzinger became the bishop of Rome as Pope Benedict the XVI. By the time Pope Benedict resigned I was in the university and more critical of religious bodies mostly the conservative ones that have remained powerfully White, Male, and Walled like a high-class club. If Pope Benedict had resigned in 2008, I would have been in the library tearing through encyclopedias and looking for historical precedence and trying to measure the impact today. In 2013, I didn’t care beyond a cursorily reading of the news. If “The Two Popes” was released in 2010, I would have rushed with a beating heart and mouth agape to swallow in every word, every scene, and every picture. Released in 2019, I watched “The Two Popes” with a sidelong critical eye.

The old vs the new

Based on a play “The Pope” by Anthony McCarten and directed by Fernando Meirelles starring two Welsh legendary actors Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio the Archbishop of Benes Aires who later becomes Pope Francis. The film begins with the death of Pope John Paul II and the arrival of cardinals for the election of a new pope. The dean of the College of Cardinals the German Joseph Ratzinger is the frontrunner and as reported in the film’s news channels “the natural successor to Pope John Paul the Second”.

“The Two Popes” presents Cardinal Ratzinger as the conservative cardinal who wants a continuation of the traditional ways of the Church, condemning homosexuals, abortions, and contraceptives, while Cardinal Bergoglio is representative of progress in the Church. After the first ballot, Ratzinger had forty-seven votes with Bergoglio and Cardinal Martini the Archbishop of Milan who was getting ten and nine votes respectively. While Bergoglio resists the counsels of his friends to rally the non-Ratzinger votes which Martini already endorses, Ratzinger goes from table to table campaigning for himself by asking the electors to vote for the only one person who knows the truth.

See Angels Falls A Novel Holiday Review

It becomes evident at the beginning of the show where the sentiments of the filmmakers lie. This is not a bad thing in itself except that by the end of the film the whole thing appears like a PRsh job executed by a panel led by someone at CNN or the New York Times.

Cardinal Bergoglio is presented as a kind man, soft-spoken and thoughtful. He is a tango-dancing, soccer-watching, TV-watching gentleman. He is not afraid of the people and has been a man of the people. He is seen as a man who is wary of power and is willing to relinquish his claim to the papacy rather than have a raucous conclave, and will rather retire as a cardinal than fight the church. The pope will not hear of it. And then it turns out that the pope himself is considering retirement, in fact, will retire if he can get the Latin American Cardinal to withdraw his resignation and succeed Benedict as the next pope.

The Two Popes: Revisionist or PR hit job?

Whatever the themes of this movie, the primary question is is this a good movie? It is a fine film, this one. If you are a lover of behind the scenes, you would love the visual of the cardinals gathering, wearing their red and white attires and moving around in a union of ancient, religious, and regalia glory. The medieval Italian arts on the background and the Latin tunes add to the solemnity and spirituality of the scenes. The dialogues between the two popes were poetry to the ears. I didn’t really relate with the flashback of the role of the younger Bergoglio during the Argentine military dictatorship and crimes. The whole scenes are in Spanish and it doesn’t help that the copy I watched doesn’t have an English subtitling for these.

What does the film do?

“The Two Pope” presents Pope Francis as a progressive force. We have now seen the pope in action and the way the film presented him as the catalyst for progress is not who we see today. Refusing to condemn homosexuals and considering making celibacy optional is good but these are not the main issue. The biggest problem of the Catholic Church is corruption which is exemplified by pedophilia. Pope Francis has handled the cases of pedophiles in cassock poorly. So the presentation of the pope as a force of change is revisionist. Or a PR job made to embellish the image of a Church father who came with so much promise but has so far failed to make a dent on the huge mess the church is.

See also: Why you should re-watch Interstellar

There are many people who will point at the presence of the former pope who lives in Pope Francis’ backyard with the title of pope emeritus as a limiting presence for the Argentine holiness. The ex-pope is out but he is not really out of the way and there are, according to suggestions in the media, whispers that a sizeable number of conservatives in Vatican City who still see the pope emeritus as a symbol of resistance of the progressive ideas of Pope Francis. The fact that these ideas are just still ideas is an indication to these whispers that the disciples of Pope Benedict are winning the battle.

“The Two Popes” will surely help in the way many see the pope. But I don’t think the 1.5 billion Catholics on earth will watch this film. But it isn’t about the common Catholic in a faraway parish. This film will be seen by the kind of people who read, write, and analyze the many problems of the Catholic Church. This film will have an impact on them. Yes, but it won’t be enough.

 Image Source: Bustle

*The new spelling of the French word

Amos JC

Amos JC

Amos JC is the head of movies and TV content.